Parking system fate to go on ballot as Carollo prevailsBy Catherine Lackner
In a political victory for Mayor Joe Carollo, Miami city commissioners agreed to add a charter amendment to the Nov. 7 ballot that will remove the Miami Parking System's "exclusivity."
In light of Mr. Carollo's long-standing desire to abolish the parking authority, "we went through a series of scenarios" that could be presented to voters, said Assistant City Manager Bob Nachlinger.
In the end, commissioners chose two options regarding the future of Miami's Parking System which will be put to the voters. Those are:
nAllow the authority to stand, adding two members one of which would be Miami's mayor to its five-member board.
nPermit the authority to remain, but allow the city to transfer the parking system's assets and to seek bids from private contractors to manage its roughly 17,000 parking spaces.
Another option for the city to take over the authority, which is governed by the Offstreet Parking Board was discussed but not approved for the ballot by commissioners.
Commissioner Tomas Regalado cast the only dissenting vote on Sept. 7, saying the ballot question was confusing and might mislead voters.
"If an independent party bids for the garages and the bids are accepted," Mr. Regalado said, "then the authority will no longer exist. It's almost the same as its being abolished."
"This does not need to be a hostile takeover," Commissioner Art Teele said. "I have no intention of trying to force-feed something down."
He commended the independent parking authority, which he said has "served the city with some distinction" since the 1950s and which enjoys a AAA bond rating compared to the city's BB or "non-investment grade" rating.
"At least there haven't been any scandals there to my knowledge," Mr. Teele said. "That, in itself is something."
He also expressed concern that, should the city assume the authority's assets, rating agencies would react negatively. "Any action this board takes could have an effect on ratings. Options 1 and 3 would affect the bonds."
Nevertheless, information about parking revenues "is too hard to get," he complained.
Commissioner Willy Gort said that when the city nearly went broke several years ago, the parking authority, which generates about $11 million in revenue, "didn't step forward to share. That was the biggest problem we had in the past."
Art Noriega, executive director of the Miami Parking System, showed the commission revenue and expense figures from five major cities to demonstrate the agency's efficiency. While some cities showed higher parking revenues, he said, expenses were equally high.
"The national average return is 1.5% of gross," Mr. Noriega said. By comparison, the Miami Parking System returns 22% of gross.
After paying salaries and reinvesting money to maintain facilities, he said, "everything flows to the city. Nothing remains within the Miami Parking System."
The only way to increase revenues, he said, would be to increase the number of parking spaces or raise rates, an option the commission already has the power to do.
In Washington, DC, for example, Mr. Noriega said a private party that took over the city's parking concession increased yearly revenues from $4.4 million to $12.5 million by installing 15,000 new meters.
"Our city has some disadvantages," he said. The central business district does not have a 24-hour operation with resulting turnover of parking spaces. There's very little room for more parking.
"This authority has been run appropriately," said Art Hertz, Off-Street Parking Board chairman. "You're not going to find a better run operation."
"I want to be frank and open I want the city to get the maximum dollar," Mr. Carollo said. "I want to see competition."
Commissioners agreed to put two options on the ballot. If voters approve both, the city will have the right to transfer the parking department's assets and seek competitive bids and also will have two appointed members, including the mayor, on the board.
"I've been listening to all of the comments," Commissioner Johnny Winton said. "I believe in competition. But I think there are some serious policy issues here.
"The CBD is in terrible shape," he said. "The infrastructure stinks." Parking will be an integral part of renewing downtown, he said, and "if we go to a private company, they can't do this.
"I'm not in favor of wiping out the department of Offstreet Parking."
He and Mr. Teele urged City Manager Carlos Gimenez to work with the parking authority to negotiate a better rate of return to the city and only to bid the parking projects out if an agreement can't be reached.
Mr. Regalado was unconvinced.
"We're told that government has to have vision, not just try to see if we can make more money," he said. "I won't go to the people of Miami and try to promote this. We're not going to be able to bring them what we're promising. People have been bitten by the same promises too many times."
"I'm confident we can make our case to the voters," Mr. Noriega said after the meeting.
Details: Miami Parking Authority, (305) 373-6789.
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