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Intense Debate On Longer Parking Meter Enforcement Hours

Pittsburgh City Council has until January 1 to decide whether to continue the practice of ending parking meter enforcement at 6 p.m., or let the enforcement time automatically extend until 10 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays. At Wednesday's Council meeting, strong words and hot tempers proved the debate is far from over.

After hours of discussion, Council voted to hold for one week legislation from Councilman Bill Peduto that would cap the meter hours at 6 p.m. If the bill isn't passed in the next week or two, parking meter enforcement will run four hours longer, starting the day after New Year's Day.

To start the meeting, eight Pittsburgh businesspeople told Council that the longer hours would hurt their businesses by deterring customers. John Graf of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association explained that he's not worried about the hourly meter fees themselves, but rather the possibility of parking tickets.

"The first time a guest gets a $25 ticket because they went five minutes over what they thought they were going to be in a restaurant, it's going to be the last time they're there," said Graf.

In the ensuing debate over parking meter hours, some Council Members said the extended hours will provide necessary revenue; others suggested it would be better for city residents and businesses to have Council find the revenue elsewhere.

The issue began in late 2010, when Council passed legislation to dedicate $13 million in parking tax revenue to the pension fund each year. The infusion of cash was necessary to avoid a state takeover of the pension fund, which would have required much larger yearly payments. At the same time, however, Council passed a scheduled increase of parking meter rates with longer enforcement hours as well, to offset the loss of parking tax revenue for the independent Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

When parking meter enforcement was extended to 10 p.m. in early 2011, though, residents and businesses protested to the point that Council rescinded the longer enforcement hours until 2013. Now, some Council Members say the extended hours are necessary to account for $2.6 million in the 2013 operating budget; however, others say that the extended enforcement will hurt businesses and cause overcrowding of parking on residential streets that don't have meters, and the city should look elsewhere for $2.6 million in revenue.

Supporters of the extended enforcement hours, including Council President Darlene Harris and Councilman Ricky Burgess, said Council should hold true to the tenets of the pension funding agreement created in December of 2010. Harris said Council Members can't give away revenue at the expense of the city budget.

"I would like to be Santa Claus too, but I can't be Santa Claus and try to run this city. I am not running for mayor, and I don't need to try to get people's votes for mayor," said Harris, referring to Councilman Peduto's widely-expected campaign for the mayor's office in 2013.

On the other hand, Peduto said the parking meter revenue that would be brought in from the extended enforcement hours is not involved with city's pension fund at all; rather, he said that money goes directly to the Parking Authority.

"The argument that this will help to secure our pension fund is not true," said Peduto. "If we raise these meters' [hours], what we will do is increase the bank account of the Parking Authority, and they're already receiving record revenues."

Though Council voted to hold Peduto's bill for a week, it appeared as though battle lines may already be forming. Council Members Harris and Burgess were staunch supporters of a 10 p.m. limit, while Council Members Kraus, Peduto and Rudiak spoke in favor of the 6 p.m. limit. Council Members O'Connor and Lavelle said they need more information before making a decision, and the positions of Council Members Smith and Dowd were not made clear on Wednesday.