Demise of parking deal bad, mayor says
Last Modified: March 29. 2013 12:53PM
WILKES-BARRE – The termination of plans to lease the city’s parking assets could have ill effects on taxpayers and city employees, Mayor Tom Leighton said, but he intends to capitalize on the value of those assets down the road.
“There were bidders who saw great value in our parking,” Leighton said Wednesday. “What we lost was future money we could use now.”
The mayor said had the city and parking authority been able to agree to seek bids on the parking assets, a successful bidder would have come up with the $20 million minimum initial payment for the contract. Leighton said that “future money” would have been available now and in coming years to keep taxes down, improve infrastructure and hire more police officers.
The mayor wants to talk to the parking authority about forming a new municipal authority that would assume control of all the city’s parking assets – 2,113 garage spaces, 160 surface lot spaces and 800 parking meters. Some authority members have come out in support of taking over the city-owned portion – the Intermodal Transportation Center and meters. The authority controls the parking garages and surface lots.
While Leighton said forming a new municipal authority would provide many benefits, Drew McLaughlin, the city’s administrative coordinator, said the city does not have the ability to dissolve an independent authority.
“The mayor and City Council are committed to working with the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority on pursuing a public option that would consolidate the assets under the control of a new authority,” McLaughlin said. “We are exploring a public finance option and not a private lease. …”
Leighton said the city administration is starting the budget process. The mayor will present his 2013 budget in October. Property taxes were not raised last year, he said, but he can’t make any guarantees the same will be true for next year.
“The loss of a parking deal might affect taxes or employment,” Leighton said. “We said all along if leasing the parking assets was not in the best interest of the taxpayers, we wouldn’t do it.”
The mayor said other cities in Pennsylvania, such as Scranton and Harrisburg, are experiencing serious financial difficulty.
“When your state capital files for bankruptcy, every city should be concerned,” Leighton said.
On Tuesday, the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority decided to halt the process of looking into leasing its garages and lots. The authority received six responses to its Request for Qualifications, but four were disqualified for not meeting certain provisions. The authority also terminated the contract of Fox Rothschild, the Philadelphia law firm hired to oversee the process, and all other consultants.
Mike Merritt, chairman of City Council, said he doesn’t expect council to take any action on the parking plan unless something is proposed by the administration.
Wilkes-Barre City Council meets today at 1 p.m. at City Hall, 4th floor, council chambers. Public comment is allowed.