A surprise is in store for those who want to rush the Niagara Falls parking plan through.
Three councilmen – constituting a majority – Chairman Andrew Touma, and councilmembers Glenn Choolokian and Robert Anderson - have told the Niagara Falls Reporter that they are not going to approve any parking plan until after the election.
“The trash plan, it’s done, ” said Touma. “ it was improperly rushed by the Dyster administration. But nobody’s going to hold my feet to the fire again. There are too many unanswered questions about the parking plan and anybody who studies it seriously can see that.”
Among the concerns are that the city’s parking consultant, Desman Associates, admits the parking plan is three years away from seeing a profit.
That’s assuming Dyster won’t screw it up.
Secondly no one has seen the private- public partnership contract.
That’s because there is no contract.
Still since the plan won't turn a profit for at least three years and yet there is this rush to get the plan passed- that alone should make people wonder.
The argument is that the city needs to earn money that was falsely put into the 2015 revenue line for a program that won't turn a profit for years to come.
Back in May four of five city councilmen questioned the plan set forth by Dyster, including how much revenue a private parking meter operator would take and what role a proposed parking manager might play should the position be added to the city’s payroll.
Only Kristen Grandinetti voted in favor of the Dyster parking plan that she admitted she did not understand.
She said she found the proposal “very confusing” but voted for it anyway.
Last week Dyster called upon the city’s parking consultant, Desman Associates, to provide the council with more information.
Gregory Shumate, an associate with Desman, told the council that a private firm handling meter collection and enforcement would get a share of the money.
The plan – which is not in writing and not defined - calls for the city to hire a parking manager to oversee the private operator and the formation of a parking committee consisting of city officials who might get stipends for their added work.
Desman believes the city should add a parking manager position to its payroll.
That will cost between $70,000- 100,000 a year counting health insurance and pension benefits – eating up most of the profits.
Desman has estimated annual expense for the program at about $100,000, conservatively suggesting that once fully installed the meters could return a little more than $176,000 in revenue for a full year, not including funds collected through parking violations.
The only thing known so far – and the one thing Dyster wants the council to vote on – which they say they won’t - is that the phase one parking meter installation which is $258,950 by Ber National Automaton of Rochester.
That figure does not include the meters – but only the installation.
Touma joined Choolokian and Anderson in questioning the administration’s plan to have the meters installed before having a plan for how the maters will be handled by a private operator and how enforcement will be handled.
“That means the tourist season will be missed any way you look at it,” Choolokian said. “Hence there is no rush.”
Touma agreed pointing out that the meters are only good for about seven years.
“Why put them in now? The revenue is in the summer. So if we put them in now we put them through a winter and get instead of seven years of revenue, only six years,” Touma said. “The consultant said it only takes a few weeks to install. We can decided in the spring and still get them in on time.”
Shumate says it will take at least 60 and perhaps up to 90 days from the approval of an agreement before the 40 meters – which each will handle between 4 and 12 spaces each could be in place and operational downtown.
Desman is encouraging the city to install pay-by-license plate machines that would allow users to pay by either cash or credit cards.
Dyster said that the city has been informed by representatives from Ber-National Automation, Inc. that the company is prepared to hold its $258,950 bid price for only another 45 days.
Touma said, “I’m not worried about the price going up. I’m not going to rush on account of that. Let’s face it, the price is not going to go up in the winter when the demand is less.”
Today nobody has the answers.
Where are the ultimate boundaries of the parking plan?
Should there be public hearings?
Will the new parking employee need a city vehicle to monitor the private parking company?
What is the split between the company and the city?
How long will the deal be?
It can’t be called a deficit plugging measure since the parking plan won’t turn a profit for three years.
So what’s the rush to cobble together a parking plan that in three years will have an $80,000 profit to put toward the $7.6 million deficit?
Tom Darro was on his WJJL radio show promoting Dyster’s parking plan.
Darro said it will only cost $1 to park.
Shumate said that the meters will probably be calibrated to charge $1.50 per hour for parking.
Darro said he can't understand why they only want to have 40 parking spaces.
It's going to be over 400 spaces. Each of some 40 meters will accommodate 4 – 12 parking spaces.
Darro's remarks on air prompted an immediate call from a man who said the city should be charging to launch boats at Griffon Park.
The caller also said "parking meters are everywhere and we should have them here too."
Darro said "so that's another revenue stream for us!"
A revenue stream that wouldn't be enough to cover minimum wage pay for an attendant at the launch site.
Councilman Anderson, who opposes the rush to implement a half-hatched plan, said, “There is no demand in the winter for downtown parking. It could be a deterrent to business in winter. Think about it. Suppose you are thinking about meeting a friend at Starbucks in January. You can go downtown and pay $3 each to park for two hours or you can go to Starbucks in LaSalle and park for free. So which are you going to choose?
“You have to remember that the demand for parking is only for 60-90 days in the summer. Aside from Memorial
Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, downtown parking is rarely a problem. Private parking lot operators earn the bulk of their annual revenues on a dozen or so weekends each year. This has to be considered before we rush into a plan,” Anderson said.
One of the big things being pushed by Desman and Dyster is the possible privatization of all or part of the parking in Niagara Falls.
Chicago sold control of the city streets to a consortium of investors.
The issue goes back to the 2008 meter privatization agreement rubber-stamped by the Chicago City Council at the urging of former mayor Richard M. Daley.
It turned over 36,000 parking meters for 75 years to Chicago Parking Meters LLC, a group of investors led by Morgan Stanley, an investment bank; Allianz, a German financial firm; and the government of Abu Dhabi.
In exchange, Chicago Parking Meters LLC paid the city $1.2 billion, which Mayor Daley said he would tuck away, using the interest to replace the $20 million the city collected annually from the meters. Instead, the city ran through nearly $1 billion of the payout within two years of adopting the deal.
Chicago Parking Meters LLC doubled the meter rates, then doubled them again, to $2 an hour in most parts of the city, and as much as $6.50 an hour downtown.
In 2008 the city collected $23.8 million from the meters.
Four years later Chicago Parking Meters LLC collected $139.5 million, according to audited reports filed with the city.
Not only are drivers paying more to park, they're forking it over to Chicago Parking Meters LLC instead of providing the money for basic city services—like filling potholes.
Chicago made that kind of deal.
Desman Associates, the parking consulting firm for Mayor Dyster, was part of the Morgan Stanley team that landed the Chicago leases.
One of the bidders on the Niagara Falls parking meter installation, Karen Cardillo, who represents Hectronits, and who did the meters for Niagara Falls Ontario, Austin Texas, Waterbury Connecticut and other cities and said she plans to bid again if and when the city puts the parking meters out to bid after the mayoral election, said the present Dyster plan is wrong.
“I think the city put the cart before the horse,” Cardillo said. “If you are going to put meters out there, if you don’t enforce it, you’re not going to make money. Enforcing is the most important thing. The second thing is what is the city going to do with these funds once they have it? That depends on the business community, and what the voters want. Those questions have to be answered first before you rush to put in meters.
‘If you put in the meters before you decide how to enforce, the enforcement company may not be compatible with the software used for the meters. First you have to deicide enforcement then you install the meters. The meters are the easy part of this whole equation.
“When I asked the Dyster administration how they were going to enforce they said they didn’t know.”
Cardillo also said she was recently alerted by one of her industry websites such as Bidnet.com that the city was putting out a second bid for more city meters at more locations other than those covered in the downtown bid she won but was disqualified.
“I was surprised to see the second notification. It doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Cardillo did not know where phase two of Dyster’s parking meters will be located or whether Pine Ave. was included in the second phase.
She said the bid has not been released yet, but it will become public soon, according to her industry website service.