A majority of city councillors yesterday showed support for an amended contract for the controversial parking meters project, including a much shorter duration and lower fines, but divisions persisted as the Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan charged that the changes were circulated an hour before the meeting which had been called only for discussion purposes.
After hours of deliberations at City Hall and a show of hands to indicate how many might be in favour of the project, it was agreed that another meeting would be convened on the amendments.
Months of controversy over the parking meters has roiled the council with the deal being championed by Georgetown Mayor Patricia Chase-Green and Town Clerk Royston King with Duncan leading the opposition to it.
Two reviews of the contract by the Ministry of Finance and the Attorney General’s Chambers have raised serious concerns about the deal but it appears that it will go ahead and this was apparent from Chase-Green’s arguments.
Among the amendments circulated yesterday was that the deal with Smart City Solutions (SMS) would be initially for 20 years as opposed to the 49 years in the original contract.
Chase-Green told the meeting that she wanted to highlight several facts that were misinterpreted and provide the council with the proposed amendments that were discussed.
Chase-Green reiterated that the initial parking meter proposal was introduced to the council since 1995 and “has long been accepted by previous council.” She said it was long overdue and has been extensively reviewed by the Town Clerk, City Treasurer and the City Engineer. “The purpose of the meeting is to discuss and where necessary respond to reviews which have been conducted last month by the AG and Ministry of Legal Affairs and Ministry of Finance,” she said.
“The AG [Attorney General Basil Williams] confirms that there is nothing illegal about the signing of the contract. The report does make however a number of recommendations that we have considered and addressed,” Chase-Green said.
“Beyond the question of revenue and beyond the question of the environmental benefits that will come into the city by way of this project … we are also a regulatory body and under the law, we have a statutory obligation to regulate the traffic and to manage our roadways, because even without this [Parking Meter Project] we will still be obligated by the law to ensure that we provide safety on our roadways,” Town Clerk King stated before presenting the changes that have been made to the contract.
King said that the 49-year duration of the project has been amended to 20 years, with the possibility of an additional 20 years, “subject to the approval of the City, such approval not to be unreasonably withheld.”
With reference to the tariffs and fines, King disclosed that there were five categories that were altered, which include: the parking tariff (per 15 minute interval), parking fine per instance, booting fee per instance, towing fee per instance and storage fee per day.
While the parking tariff initially was “up to $125” per 15-minute interval, it has been reduced to $50 per 15 minutes. Parking fines in the original contract were $10,000 [parking without paying fees and double parking] but have been completely removed.
Initially the booting cost was up to $20,000 with the addition of an extra $10,000 but this has been changed to $8,000 across the board.
The fourth category, the towing fee, which was initially up to $30,000 and could rise to $60,000 after two hours has been amended to $12,000 and a top figure of $20,000.
The storage fee was originally proposed at $10,000 and could accumulate depending on the amount of days. This has been changed to $7,000 and it could mount depending on the number of days. “In this case we will have to enact legislation with respect to this particular category because we are dealing with personal property and I have already engaged with our lawyers,” King said.
He explained that the parking tariff has been reduced by 60%, the parking fine for booting has been reduced by 73%, the parking fine for booting and towing has been cut by 67% and the storage fee has been reduced by 30%.
With regard to the City fees, it was initially proposed that 20% of gross parking and enforcement revenue, 10% of gross garaged parking revenue and 10% of net value-added services revenue would go to the city. It has been amended so that 20% will go to the city for the first 10 years, 25% for the next 10 years and 30% for years beyond 20 years.
The contract originally catered for a periodic joint review every five years but this has been amended to once a year and will include discussions on financial performance of the project against targets previously set.
With respect to Value Added Service (VAS), King pointed out that there was now a joint agreement by the city council and the concessionaire that any revenue coming from VAS will be shared. “Initially that was not the case because the value added services had nothing to do with the parking concessions. We were particularly concerned about the parking concessions and this value added service had nothing to do with that but because of the intervention and our own sensitivity to the interventions made by ministers (the two reviews) we have looked at it again and have agreed that that particular source of revenue should be shared,” King added.
In terms of garaged parking, King explained that the concessionaire would not have exclusive rights to garage parking in the city and would retain the right to purchase garage land from the city at a fair market price and can set weekly, monthly or yearly discounted fees for garage parking. “That will be discussed … between the council and the concessionaire,” he said.
With reference to taxes, King clarified that the amendments state that any mention in the concession of tax exemption relates only to import duties and only to equipment and material used in order to realize the project. “The concession has no position as to any other taxes, neither income taxes nor VAT on operating income) and there is absolutely no godfathering and no requirement for even the import duty exemption to be approved,” King highlighted.
There had been concerns that the deal covered a whole range of tax exemptions which are only in the purview of the Ministry of Finance.
“The auctioning of abandoned autos, again this will require legislation that we have already started looking at. Initially it was 30 days and after 30 days the concessionaires would have been in a position to move to auction, now we have 60 days to settle outstanding fees and return any balance to the owner,” King pointed out.
With reference to exempt vehicles, while it was initially only emergency vehicles of the police department, fire department and the medical and ambulatory departments of the city that were exempted, the changes provide exemptions for the initial proposals and official government and diplomatic vehicles.
While no special provisions were made for persons living with disabilities, the amendments highlight that special parking considerations for persons living with disabilities will be given at such a point that the city has initiated a process for registration and issuance of permits and identification of vehicles driven by persons living with disabilities.
The last amendment was in reference to the unilateral termination of the contract, the city was slated to pay a penalty equivalent to the concessionaire’s expenses/investments multiplied by 25% per years for the remaining time under the concession but this has been changed to 15%.
After the amendments were presented to the 22 councillors, the floor was opened for suggestions. Deputy Mayor Duncan spoke first.
“Madame Mayor and Councillors, I believe that a great wrong is being transacted here this afternoon. The notice that was sent to us said there will be a discussion on the review of the parking meter project by the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Finance and this afternoon we are being asked only to speak to the amendments which was only circulated to me about an hour ago. The amendments number 16 pages and the review from the finance ministry and legal affairs ministry is less than that and was given to us over three weeks ago and that is wrong,” Duncan said.
The council then went through several hours of intense discussion and presentations from a majority of the councillors. While some were in favour of the changes to the documents and wanted the council to come to an agreement on moving forward, others pointed out several other changes they would want to see made to the amended suggestions.
However, when Chase-Green initiated a vote for the council for who was “in favour for a parking meter project in the city”, out of 20 members present, 17 voted yes, while three members, including Duncan abstained.
Any further suggestions towards the amended and current contract, which the councillors can view at the Mayor and Town Clerk’s office, are to be submitted to the Mayor and another discussion will be held in the coming weeks.