City parking department holding its own

June 10, 2011
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Despite the recession, Grand Rapids Parking Services has continued to do well financially. At the same time, the department has added facilities and embraced technology to give its downtown customers more parking choices and payment options to fill their parking needs.

Parking Commission Chairwoman Lisa Haynes said the city-owned service has had good results in a tough economy because the department has operated as a business and has focused on improving customer service.

Parking Services is on track to record more than a $2 million surplus this fiscal year, which ends June 30. And the department has projected a bigger margin, about $2.6 million, for the next fiscal year — even though revenue from parking is expected to fall below $11 million for the first time in years. The 2012 surplus is being aided by a $600,000 cut in expenses that will include nearly a $100,000 reduction in personnel cost and a $200,000 drop in debt-service payments.

Commissioners upped the department’s fiscal year spending last week by adding $25,000 to the $80,000 they awarded in May to the city’s Office of Film, Music and Special Events.

Todd Tofferi, who directs the office, will use the money to hire a seasonal employee who will work directly with merchants and event organizers to make sure that any street closing will be tolerable to both parties. The new employee also will work with Parking Services on some downtown events, such as the week-long Rock the Rapids concert series in August.

“I’m flexible in terms of working with Parking,” he said.

Tofferi said his new hire will work from April through October, the season for events, and will go door-to-door to talk with merchants and address any concerns they might have about an event, such as noise, street closings and parking issues.

“I can use this individual when we’re down in the field to make sure everything is in place,” he said. “We’d like to see what we can do to get the merchants more involved with the events.”

Tofferi said the new employee will also upgrade the office’s website to provide more information on events and help develop a cost-benefit analysis to determine the effect street closings have on traffic to businesses and ways to mitigate the impact. Tofferi said it would cost the department about $21,000 for the seasonal worker.

“I’m asking for a little bit more than that to build in a cushion,” he said.

“The office of special events certainly benefits parking revenues,” said Enterprise Services Director Pam Ritsema. “The city has pretty much gone to a temp agency to hire seasonal employees. But we can recommend someone.”

Haynes said the West Fulton Business Association wants to debut an event in August and asked Tofferi if he would meet with the group. “They’re new at doing this,” she said.

Tofferi said he would meet with West Fulton. “We do have a lot of neighborhood associations that have events. Part of our goal is to have more of those.”

There are 44 events scheduled downtown this season. That number  was compiled before Rock the Rapids was approved and doesn’t include events in business districts.

The 2012 forecast has Parking Services taking in $10.9 million from parking revenue and $190,000 from interest on investments for total revenue of $11.1 million. Expenditures are expected to be $8.5 million, leaving the department with roughly a $2.6 million surplus.

Parking Services is an enterprise fund, a city department that doesn’t receive tax dollars and must raise its own revenue. The water, energy, and environmental departments also are enterprise funds.

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