Politics: Shoulda Been Elected

 

By Jeffrey Bradley

Budget decisions are kinda like querulous in-laws; hard to take, but affecting you only about once a year. So the proposed parking revenue bond on the upcoming Commission Meeting Agenda that places the City in debt for $70 million for the next 30 years would be like having your mother-in-law with access to your credit card coming and charging everything in advance.

The administration played elected officials like a Stradivarius when they lead ‘em to believe that the Parking Department constituted a closed Enterprise Fund, where any and all income was restricted in use. Turns out that’s not exactly true, thanks to Gabrielle Redfern. Candidate for commissioner just last year, this indefatigable individual spent months questioning, investigating and prodding to identify recent excess revenue in the parking department. Because of her efforts, your tax increase this year was reduced by 2/10 of a mill, saving the average homeowner around 60 bucks in taxes. To secure enough votes for this budget fix—there was a $4 million unfunded hole—parking rates for non-residents will increase over the next two years in selected areas.

How is it that someone outside City Hall had to point out this salient financial fact? Seems like the classic case of not being able to see the forest OR the trees.

This is the same bond proposal we referred to in our July 15 article Putting ‘The Breaks’ On Parking. The trip-wire then was a never-before used ordinance requiring notice and two public hearings concerning the true costs of projects to be funded by debt. It just so happens that Parking raises $30 million a year without hardly trying, so it behooves examining finances there more closely.

There’s more from the using-a-sledgehammer-to-swat-a-fly department: the City has absolutely no transportation master plan but naturally has one for parking. But the Purdy Avenue garage proposed to be funded with this debt is not in that plan, and contributes zero to its goals. What this garage DOES do is address a lack of 30 parking spaces at peak-hour with a twenty-five million dollar structure. Who would be idiot enough to put signature to that egregious nonsense?

Worse, the City—using borrowed money, mind you—wants to pay for the construction of this garage when it doesn’t even own the land to set it upon. Long story short: the lawyers got hold of the deal, complicated it, and persuaded the City to purchase “air rights” in order to erect it. Now, we don’t know about you, but if we went to a concert and the band played “air guitars” we’d be awfully angry. Do you see where we’re going with this? Can you sense the outrage?

Understand: this is a garage where the City plans on renting spaces to itself for parking 60 cars—and still lose money the first five years! What’s the point? Even if this 458-space garage comes in at the $20 million budget level the cost will be over $40,000.00 a space—including those ludicrous air-rights acquisition costs! C’mon; do they take us for not having opposable thumbs? How can ANYONE in their right mind square that when we’re fretting over funding school liaisons in the police department for a measly $185,000.00 a year? Whoever’s willing to live with building parking that costs more than twice the price of your average car, well, bring ‘em on.

Borrowing $70 million without addressing the core issues of congestion and the lack of mass transit is unconsciousable and something we’ll fight tooth and nail.

Remember that twenty million dollars of this new debt goes to refinance the last round of bonds already taken out on future revenue to build more parking. This happened in 1997; in the 13 years since, the City has managed to pay back just one million of that principal $21 million issue. Has the City taken a page from the Obama playbook on debt spending? What shortsighted political recklessness does this portend? We expect better from our administration and elected officials.

Sure, refinancing $20,000,000 of debt will save some money now; but if we had paid off that loan, we’d already have saved the money. (No doubt the City will understand the first part of that but not the second; whenever City Hall pays more instead of less it always seems ready to break its arm patting itself on the back, with a gusty heave of relief for having got off cheaply. We wonder again how it is they don’t get what the rest of us do so easily.)

The City doesn’t even need to borrow the money now. The contract to build the Purdy Avenue garage provides the City until December 15, 2011 to finagle a funding stream plan for construction. Why not spend the time taking a hard look at the Parking Department, and maximizing all its revenue? And examining the projects done recently with these funds to see if some might be drawn away for more appropriate and pressing accounts. And finally, paying for new garage construction-costs with cash the parking department produces by being more efficient—and trying, for once, to include better parking zones, congestion-pricing and workable options for getting around town instead of under-utilized parking places that cost the City money. Accomplishing this, tho’, means the City seizing control of its own transportation destiny, something it seems ill-prepared and ill-equipped to do. But that’s what comes of having Commissioners Pothole and Wardheel in charge instead of leaders.

Look here. There are already more than 16,000 public metered or garage parking spaces on Miami Beach. That’s more parking spots here than hotel rooms (14,000), and even more than there are yellow taxicabs in all of New York City (13,000)! If administration-types or elected officials still think we need MORE parking—instead of utilizing what we’ve got by integrating it with viable public transportation—then they ought to step aside and let Ms Redfern run the show.

After all, she just showed them how to save the residents $6,000,000.00!

 

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