News release from the Russ Jehl for City Council campaign:
The Mayor’s New Parking Lotâ€”Siphoning off Sewer Bills and Downtown Revitalization
(July 16, 2011) – If voters are undecided whether new City leadership is needed, Citizen’s Square’s parking lot is a perfect example of how the City is mismanaged. The matter was voted on during this week’s Council meeting, and its revelations were stunning.
Citizen’s Square has saddled taxpayers with seventeen million dollars of new debt. Amazingly, the enormous price tag for a newly remodeled building did not include remodeling its parking lot. Rather, the meeting revealed that the parking lot was partially being paid by the Civic Center TIF, which Councilwoman Liz Brown astutely pointed out was a misuse of the TIF funds designated for Downtown renewal and economic development. The remaining funds were coming from City Utilities, meaning citizen’s sewer bills will indirectly pay for the City’s new parking lot. Again, this is a misuse of funds. Sewer bills have skyrocketed because of the sewer/storm water separation settlement, and they will continue to skyrocket. To add the Mayor’s new parking lot onto that burden is inappropriate.
The City has focused much of its attention on fixing its antagonistic posture against development. Some of the harshest criticism I’ve heard is the nearly obsessive attention given to landscaping requirements, even if it discourages development and the jobs that would be created. Council members asked for confirmation that the proposed parking lot, which would remove several shrubs and trees, was put through the same scrutiny that a private development parking lot plan would face. The administration was not able to confirm whether it was or was not scrutinized, and members on the Planning Commission speculated that the new plan would meet minimum requirements. Regardless of whether the plan was scrutinized, the City representative seemed quite uncomfortable at the thought of a landscaping jeopardizing a key component to the City’s flagship project. Unfortunately, our City’s landscaping mandates frequently impose tremendous hurdles/costs for private developments and the jobs that will be created by them. Unfortunately, private development doesn’t have the luxury of raiding TIF funds and siphoning off sewer bills.
Prior to the Citizen’s Square parking lot discussion, much of the meeting had centered on the cost to pave streets on a per block basis, where a round number of one hundred twenty thousand dollars per block was used. Citizen’s Square’s parking lot is a block in length, but it will cost over three hundred thousand dollars. The main reason for its expense is that the City is installing drainage under the parking lot, which makes it much more costly than a typical lot. But with the bungling of this lot’s design and funding, what about this project is “typical?”
By the way, did I mention that the parking lot is in good condition? No wonder our City doesn’t have the money to fix neighborhood streets in disrepair.