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Can We Fix Our Budget With Pricier Parking?

March 20, 2009
Parking-a-plenty (photo by NuclearArt)

Parking-a-plenty (photo by NuclearArt)

According to Larry Sandler, City of Milwaukee property values fell 5% as a result of the recession and the city may need to provide another $40 million to their pension fund.  What does this mean for the budget?

A 5% decrease in property values means a 3% increase in the property tax levy would translate into an 8.4% increase in the tax rate, from $8.09 to $8.77 per $1,000 assessed valuation, Reavey said. How that affects individual properties would depend on the property’s actual assessment, which could differ significantly from the citywide average.

Conversely, if Mayor Tom Barrett and aldermen wanted to keep the tax rate flat, they would have to cut the levy by 5%, or nearly $12 million, from $237 million to $225.1 million, Reavey wrote.

While 2010 budget deliberations are still months away, Murphy said spending cuts are likely, because “there’s no way I can foresee the council or the mayor . . . having double-digit (tax) increases.”

That first paragraph is a little choppy, but essentially what it means is that a homeowner with a $150,000 house would see their property tax bill rise by $102.   I think the Journal Sentinel’s practice of reporting on property taxes confuses most readers — all anyone wants to know is how much they’re paying.  Describing the rate change as a percentage increase makes it sound much more drastic than simply putting it in dollar terms: $68 per $100,000.

Now is that fair or should the city cut services in order to keep homeowner’s happy?  What if there was another option for recovering this lost revenue and keeping services intact?  I believe that some type of performance parking could be part of that option, with the added benefit of pricing the cost of parking in a more business-savvy manner that would allow for roughly 10-15% of parking spaces in an area left open. People would stop complaining about parking and we’d patch our budget deficit all in one!

By pricing parking spaces competitively in specific downtown areas, the city could generate significant revenue to repair the deficit.  The Third Ward and Downtown areas currently offer free parking (with time limits) on Saturdays.  In both districts, the city is essentially giving money away by not pricing parking at a fair rate.  A more blatant example is in the area around the Bradley Center.  To park in the lots across from the Bradley Center on 4th St it will cost you $20.  The metered street parking in that area will run you $1.50/hr at most, but after 6pm it’s free.  These spots should be upgraded to the LUKE parking meters and should be priced as expensively as the parking garages in the area during sporting events.  The spots would still be filled since the demand for parking is much greater than the supply of street parking in front of the Bradley Center; that’s why private parking garages can charge $20.

There are more complications when it comes to other areas in the city, but pricing parking with the goal of having a small percentage of spaces always open seems like a sensible way to begin addressing the serious deficits we’re about to face.

<Jeramey Jannene at Urban Milwaukee has a really excellent post about the cost of parking in Milwaukee.  See it here>

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5 Comments
  1. March 20, 2009 12:00 pm

    Was just about finishing and thinking I really needed to give you my article to read. Glad you found it.

    I definitely need to write more about the issue.

    The most important thing to note about parking benefit districts is that they actually make it easier to park! They free up spots by discouraging long-term parking.

    I like your thinking, but I think are some issues to be considered.
    1. We would likely never get the money back to be spent in the area it was generated (a goal of parking benefit districts).
    2. I’m not sure it would raise enough money.
    3. It would be viewed as a tax increase if you used it for the general fund. Conservative radio would have a field day at downtown’s expense.

    More suburban partnerships for infrequently used resources (I would have to imagine there are many stones unturned here, especially in law enforcement), and for resources that discounts are given for quantity (salt, etc) would be a good area to hunt for easy money.

    Absolutely behind better parking policy downtown, just can’t do it to pay for all kinds of other stuff across the site.

    -Jeramey-

  2. March 20, 2009 7:43 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Jeramey. I should have noted the range of purposes this revenue could be used for without causing an uproar.

    Perhaps tyng it to pothole prevention would help sell the idea to more of the community? I honestly hope it could help fund safer bike lanes, too.

  3. March 20, 2009 11:46 pm

    What’s interesting is parking did go up, yea not market priced yet, in downtown Milwaukee this year and there really wasn’t any uproar. I think that was estimated to add 500k to $1 million to the budget. That said full on Shoup market based parking is the way to go but I don’t think that will cover the gap either. The next budget is just going to hurt.

  4. March 24, 2009 9:17 am

    Yeah, we didn’t have the uproar like they’re currently having in chicago

  5. tom permalink
    April 15, 2009 12:02 pm

    anything that makes cars more expensive to own & operate serves the public. raise the parking rates

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