Saturday, July 14, 2012

Revving up Revenue

I almost skipped the recent budget workshop. They are normally boring with few surprises. Still, I haven't missed one in several years and old habits are hard to break. I'm glad I went.

Staff is digging hard to find new revenue sources. Three of them really caught my eye. I've already blogged about the proposed use of water and sewer capital fund money to fix roads. To summarize I still think that the money you pay on your water and sewer bill should go towards those services, not fixing roads. There are two other revenue proposals that really stood out and need to be addressed.

I found it hard to believe they suggested bringing back parking meters. They estimated that after all the expenses of installation, etc. they could still bring in $340k for the first year of operation. That's assuming anyone still bothers to shop downtown after they install parking meters again. Parking meters helped kill off downtown’s across the country. Why pay to park and shop when at the mall or big box store you can park for free? There would be sometimes when you have to go downtown for example business at city hall, but this would discourage people from shopping or eating downtown. We're spending truck loads of time and money trying to revitalize downtown and then discourage people from doing business there by installing parking meters. Seems a bit silly to me.

The next revenue source they suggested was red light cameras. They suggested that they would bring in $100,000 per year. There is so much wrong with this proposal it's hard to know where to begin. First off, red light cameras in Texas are governed by chapter 707.003 of the Transportation code. This sets a limit of $75 on the civil penalty that can be charged and a max $25 for a late charge. It also requires that 50% of the money collected and left over from the expenses of installing, maintaining, and operating the system and collecting the penalties be paid to the credit of the regional trauma account. That means after the system had collected enough to start getting revenue, they would have to issue 2,666 notices of civil penalties to collect $100,000. That's a lot of red light tickets. Then you run into the little problem of chapter 707.008(2) which says “(2)  deposit the remainder of the revenue in a special account in the local authority's treasury that may be used only to fund traffic safety programs, including pedestrian safety programs, public safety programs, intersection improvements, and traffic enforcement.” Kind of limits what you can use the red light camera money for. It's no longer the general revenue source it was when this issue was first brought before council in 2007 and the money wouldn't be useable for very many projects the city needs to be doing. There is also a lot of red tape involved including the requirement to establish a citizens committee on the cameras, the need for a full engineering study before installation and annual reports to the state. The money certainly can't be used to fix streets or other urgent capital projects. It seems that staff really didn't do their homework on red light cameras.

At the end of the budget workshop I had to wonder why these three possible revenue sources were even mentioned. They all have serious flaws. Surprises like this are why I try to make all council meetings. Still, I expected better from staff.

1 comment:

  1. I troubled myself to look at the history of parking meters. Monday will be the anniversary of the installation of the first parking meter in Oklahoma City July 16,1935. It was the answer to the downtown merchants' dream. They were suffering because workers were taking up nearly all spaces, all day, and shoppers had no place to park. The mall had not been invented then, no one had thought to build parking garages for workers, but customers were going to outlying locations where they could park, and downtown merchants were suffering.

    Didn't take long for the lawsuits to crank up, 1937. The OK Court upheld the use of meters, BUT, stated that while the "free use of streets" was not absolute, and here I quote, "If it had been shown...{city} was resorting to their use not for regulatory purposes, but for revenue only, there might have been a different judgement".

    Parking spaces are not a scarce commodity in today's San Angelo downtown needing regulation. Sometimes going to the library, I have to park the next block west, otherwise I can usually park a few spaces from my destination.

    Add that this whole discussion has cited nothing but revenue from jump street, City of San Angelo will be in an indefensible position should some irate taxpayer file suit.

    Granted, I have not found Texas citations. The Library is closed today, so I have no access to Westlaw, I'm not sure Texas statute addresses parking meters at all. Still, the finding that free use of public streets the taxpayers have paid for is the default position absent regulatory need has been consistent in many states.

    Our downtown business owners are hardly begging for meters, that's not where this comes from. I suspect our merchants would suffer FROM meters, not a lack of them. We aren't Dallas, a body can go across town in 15 minutes at what passes for rush hour here. City's sticky-fingered revenue projections are based on the notion that customers will not change behavior in response to a new cost.

    If we see Sunset Mall jump on the bandwagon in favor of downtown meters;...OK, the Mall will probably sit quietly and salivate over the prospect, but I wouldn't blame them if they offered to pay half the cost of installation.