City OKs Special Event Parking Hike

May 23, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners Tuesday approved a short-term fix to the long-term problem of funding labor costs associated with pedestrian and traffic management for special events.

As one of several budget-balancing measures proposed by City Manager Kurt Kimball, special event parking rates will increase at two downtown city ramps to cover police overtime for events at the Van Andel Arena and new DeVos Place convention center.

The special event rate was increased by $1.25, from $5 to $6.25, at both the Government Center and Pearl Ionia ramps. The majority of the increase will be used to pay overtime wages for police patrolling events.

Mayor John Logie noted that the move taps not only the Parking Commission treasury, but also the treasuries of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Convention and Arena Authority (CAA.)

The DDA would give up some parking revenue that would normally be used to support its development objectives and the CAA would forego some revenues through its ownership of the lot behind the arena, he explained.

The Parking Commission and DDA have agreed to the plan, and the CAA has recommended its board do the same.

Kimball has suggested a general fund transfer of $100,000 from the cemeteries operating fund to help offset event labor costs through next year.

In the interim, he said, a co-sponsored special event task force will be created to devise a long-term financing solution for event labor costs, a solution that would be implemented Jan. 1, 2005. He said the fund transfer would be enough to get the city by until then.

“If the CAA follows through, we should be able to increase the appropriation in the police department budget for overtime to assure we have the best event safety and the best traffic management at the arena and DeVos Place,” Kimball told commissioners.

As the opening of DeVos Place draws nearer, it underscores the need to find a more equitable funding scenario to help defray the cost of police overtime the city incurs for arena and, come December, DeVos Place events, Logie said.

Logie said he has twice supported the measure as a voting member of both the Planning Commission and the DDA and that he plans to recommend its adoption to his colleagues on the CAA this week.

“We’re going to learn things from that convention center once it opens that we don’t know now,” Logie said. “This is probably a work in progress until we get some actual experience. We may have to revisit it.”

Second ward commissioners Lynn Rabaut and Rick Tormala expressed concern about higher parking fees discouraging people from coming downtown.

Rabaut said she’d like to see the parking fee increase monitored “to make sure we’re covering costs and not making a cash cow out of this,” and suggested there be continuous review of event staffing needs so overstaffing doesn’t become an issue.

Tormala questioned how cemetery service would be affected by a $100,000 reduction in the cemetery operation subsidy.

“I don’t understand why we’re taking money — and do object to taking money — from a fund that is really running at a deficit right now,” he said. “Just two or three weeks ago we increased our fees for cemetery lots and expenses to help cover this deficit so the general fund wouldn’t have to subsidize it so much.”

Rather, the money could come from the parking fund, which has $1 million the city could tap, Tormala said.

Kimball said even with the subsidy reduction, the cemetery fund would maintain adequate working capital and cemetery service wouldn’t be diminished.           

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