Monday, April 11, 2011

Parking Rates at Center of Council v. Mayor Feud

When the Pittsburgh City Council passed the 2011 budget by overriding Mayor Luke Raventsahl’s veto, it anticipated additional money from the Pittsburgh Parking Authority through higher parking rates. Those new rates have yet to go into effect and the fingers are starting to point.

The payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) from the Parking Authority is to double to $2.6 million this year and then grow to $9.3 in 2012 and beyond. Taxes from the higher would also increase the city’s revenues. It is all part of the council’s plan to shore up the city’s sagging pension fund.

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) approved the budget, which was passed on the last day of the year, and its members are now asking if the budget will remain in balance. During a recent ICA meeting Board Chair Barbara McNees said, “ We are going to have to do some analysis on this, see where everybody is on this.”

Where they are right now is fighting. “What we’ve asked council for is kind of an outline of what they feel the appropriate rates are to meet the goals they have set forth for the budget,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at a recent public event.

The council created a list of parking rate increases for use during the budget debate and as recently as last month sent it on to the mayor’s office at his request. But the numbers do not satisfy Ravenstahl. “They have given us the numbers but the data behind it doesn’t add up to the amount of money they’ve suggested, the problem is it doesn’t get us the revenue we need,” said Ravenstahl.

“I’ve not seen numerical evidence of that, I’ve not seen any financial analysis of that,” said Pittsburgh City Council Member Natalia Rudiak. “I’d like to have a real conversation about that, it sounds like a talking point, I want to see the spread sheet.” Rudiak, who is also a Parking Authority Board Member, suggests that the Council Budget Director and the Mayor’s Budget Director sit down in a room and work out the differences. Until now nearly all of the conversations have been by mail or through the media and Rudiak is upset. “We need to work together to make sure our pension fund is fully funded. I’m not playing games,” said Rudiak.

If the new rates are not approved by the board in the next few months there will not be enough time to collect the extra funds by the 4th quarter of the year when the payment is due. That means the Parking Authority would either have to find the money elsewhere to make the PILOT or the city would have to find the money in its budget.

Mayor Ravenstahl is looking to Rudiak to act as a member of the Parking Authority Board. “The Authority is the only one able to raise those rates,” said Ravenstahl. Rudiak introduced a plan to raise rates in the fall and the board rejected the idea. The mayor appoints all five members of the board.

Rudiak believes it is up to the mayor to get the new rates in place. “We as city council are a legislative body, we write legislation. The mayor and the administration are the executive body it is their job to execute whatever legislation the city council passes,” said Rudiak.

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority next meets April 21. Council will investigate the six-year budget outlook at a special meeting Tuesday.

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