On 3-2 vote, City Commission approves $352,000 expense for new downtown parking meters

Brody and Freeland Eddie oppose the purchase

City Commissioner Hagen Brody. File photo

Continuing their split over a revived paid parking program in downtown Sarasota, City Commissioners Hagen Brody and Shelli Freeland Eddie this week opposed a $352,000 budget amendment for the equipment.

They also voted “No” on Nov. 5, 2018, when Parking Division Manager Mark Lyons explained a proposal to reintroduce parking meters on Main Street and South Palm Avenue and along Ringling Boulevard in the city’s Judicial District.

The budget amendment was included on the City Commission’s Consent Agenda No. 2 for Jan. 7. Brody had let Mayor Liz Alpert know that he wanted to pull the item for comments.

Initially, Brody said that afternoon, his intention simply was to underscore his plan to vote against the amendment, as he has been an opponent of the meters. However, he added, “I would like to reiterate that I would like, in the agendas, some description, even as brief as possible,” about the proposed budget amendments. “That would be helpful.”

Brody has complained on several occasions that only a board member or a member of the public who has read the backup agenda material would know what the budget amendments entail. The item on the Jan. 7 agenda listed the number of the proposed resolution, “amending the budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2018 by providing for supplemental appropriations in the amounts identified in Exhibit A …”

After Brody made his comments, Freeland Eddie pointed out that the backup agenda material did not specify how much the city would be paying per year for the equipment.

City Manager Tom Barwin replied that the city plan is to cover the expense over five years, with a 3.5% interest rate. The actual amount per year will depend on how much revenue the city receives after use of the parking meters begins, he added.

During the Nov. 5, 2018 meeting, Lyons explained that his plan is to have the meters operational by May.

On Jan. 7, Kelly Strickland, director of financial administration for the city, told Freeland Eddie that she estimated the total per year would be between $48,000 and $50,000.

“If there is no ability to repay the annual payment [out of meter receipts], then what happens?” Freeland Eddie asked.

Kelly Strickland. Image contributed by City of Sarasota

“If the revenues aren’t coming in, then the General Fund would extend the loan [to the Parking Division],” Strickland explained, noting that the payments would be shown by a line item in the Parking Division’s annual budget.

The General Fund comprises property tax revenue and revenue from other sources that the city receives. The backup agenda material for the budget amendment said the commission was being asked to approve an advance of the $352,000 to the Parking Division. Further detail in a city staff memo clarified that the recommendation was to reclassify the advance as a loan receivable.

A number of times since her election to the commission in May 2015, Freeland Eddie has expressed skepticism that a sufficient number of people would pay for parking, to justify the use of meters on either St. Armands Circle or in downtown Sarasota. People will avoid the meters, she has stressed.

The St. Armands meters are to become operational after the new city parking garage for the Circle opens later this month.

On Jan. 7, Freeland Eddie also asked how the parking meter payments would affect the annual subsidy the commission has been providing the Parking Division.

Strickland told her, “A subsidy is not usually repaid,” whereas a loan between city funds is repaid.

One argument Lyons of the Parking Division has made consistently over the past several years is that subsidies to cover the operations of his staff would continue to climb without extra revenue. Since 2011, he said on Nov. 5, 2018, the City Commission has allocated about $3.3 million in those subsidies.

Freeland Eddie next asked Strickland whether staff would tell the board members when the loan to the Parking Division has been repaid.

The financial information would be available in each annual city budget, Strickland said.

The yearly city audit also would encompass the details, Barwin noted.

This exhibit is part of the backup agenda material for the parking meter equipment budget amendment. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

When Freeland Eddie then asked whether the commission would get a report each year on the status of the payments for the equipment, Strickland responded, “We can do that.”

Finally, Freeland Eddie said, “Forgive me. I just don’t have a voice.”

At that point, Commissioner Willie Shaw made a motion to approve the budget amendment, and Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch seconded it. Mayor Alpert joined them in the 3-2 majority on the vote.