Money Grab Irks Parking

June 19, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — A draft of the letter was written and the item was on the agenda, but parking commissioners decided to delay their discussion of the panel’s relationship with City Hall until their July meeting.

Parking Commission Chairman Jack Hoffman asked for the delay because two of the commissioners had to leave the meeting early due to scheduling conflicts, and he wanted input from 3rd Ward City Commissioner Elias Lumpkins and attorney John Tully on an issue that has been brewing at the board since last January.

Back then former Parking Commissioner Daniel Barcheski said he didn’t believe city officials viewed the board as having a pivotal role to play in shaping the city’s future, and he labeled the situation a dilemma.

To back his claim, Barcheski pointed out that the city bypassed the panel on a review of a proposed downtown development that involved parking, and that Mayor George Heartwell bypassed the commission when he chose not to take the seat on the board that was held by former Mayor John Logie for years.

“The dilemma I referred to earlier is the complete lack of respect we have received from city leadership and the questionable need to have an Auto Parking Commission,” wrote Barcheski in a January letter he submitted to the commission.

Then when the city asked the parking commission in May to contribute $359,000 of the system’s revenue to the general fund, parking commissioners expressed some unease about having the city dip into its receipts again.

“We don’t want to become the go-to place for general-fund subsidies,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman called the city’s action a “subsidy creep,” while noting that three years ago the city withdrew $1 million over two years from the parking fund and deposited the money in the general fund. The Parking Services Department is an enterprise fund, meaning it has to operate on the revenue it raises, and doesn’t receive tax dollars from the city.

The draft letter that the board didn’t get to this month includes the commission’s mission to support downtown economic development with its parking decisions, but also points out that the panel can’t do that without sufficient revenue.

“The ability of the parking system to provide public parking requires a predictable revenue stream. Payments to general-fund activities interfere with that revenue stream. We are concerned that expanding those payments beyond what now exist will impede with the ability of the parking system to meet its mission statement,” read a portion of the letter addressed to the City Commission.

In the meantime, city commissioners approved about a 3-percent increase in the monthly parking rates for the city’s lots and ramps. But 2nd Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala said the rate hike was being made for no other reason than that the city could do so.

“I’d like to see one night of free parking downtown,” he added.

Parking commissioners agreed to the hike earlier. But they also agreed not to increase the event rates, which account for most of the nighttime parking charges.

Heartwell reminded city commissioners that Lumpkins was recently installed as a voting member of the parking board after serving three months as the city commission’s liaison to the parking commission.

“Let’s take advantage of that, while we have some representation,” said the mayor.

Lumpkins moved into the seat Barcheski voluntarily vacated last month. Barcheski, CEO of Axios Inc., resigned from the panel because he believed he compromised a number of his personal positions in an effort not to be perceived as being negative. He also said he brought a lot of conflict to the meetings, but others on the board disagreed with his assessment.

“We’re all sorry he resigned,” said Hoffman. “He was a good spokesperson for a point of view.”    

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