Niagara Gazette

March 2, 2014

Vote on first step of overhauling Falls' parking system set for Monday

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Mayor Paul Dyster is again trying to move forward a plan to overhaul the city’s downtown parking system in an effort to increase revenue for the city.

Dyster is asking the city council to approve the allocation of $95,000 in casino revenues to hire Desman Associates, a consulting firm that has already produced a parking study for the city, to oversee the implementation of the parking system overhaul.

Dyster said the new system, which can be paid for entirely with casino revenues, would allow the city to boost parking revenues.

“Desman’s study suggest that we could be bringing in a significant amount of revenues from parking if we make some changes to the system,” the mayor said.

Dyster introduced a measure last September that would have allocated $1 million in casino revenues for the implementation of the new parking system, but it failed in a 3-2 vote with Councilman Glenn Choolokian, Councilman Robert Anderson, Jr. and former Councilman Sam Fruscione voting the item down.

Council Chairman Charles Walker and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti voted yes to the measure.

Dyster said he was always planning on introducing an agenda item to hire Desman but instead proposed the allocation of funds for the implementation of the plan last fall for budgetary purposes.

Had that measure been approved he would have put stronger revenue projections for parking in the 2014 budget. Because the budget planning process is months away the city can hire the consultants first and ask for approval of the money to implement the parking plan later, Dyster said.

Desman would review and update the parking plan they first presented to the city two years ago, oversee the hiring of a parking program coordinator for the city, oversee the procurement and installation of new parking equipment for downtown streets and the city parking garage and choose a service operator for the new parking system, according to a letter to the city from the company.

Councilman Andrew Touma, who took his seat on the council at the beginning of the year, said he supports the plan to overhaul downtown parking.

“As a city we haven’t tapped into our ability to generate revenue from parking,” he said. “We’ve missed out on an opportunity in the past.”

Choolokian said previous administrations have paid consultants to produce parking studies that have not been implemented.

“I think we waste more money on consultants than we have to,” he said. “We do the same studies over again.”

Choolokian strongly opposed the measure to allocate funds for the implementation of the parking plan when it came up last fall, saying that $1 million was far too expensive.

He said he would rather see the city hire a company to manage the equipment and service and split revenues, as he has seen other cities manage their parking that way, though he could not give specific examples when reached by phone Friday as he did not have the paperwork detailing his prior research with him.

“I’m definitely opposed to it,” he added.

The council will also consider items that would:

• Allocate $105,000 in casino revenues for the Department of Public Works to purchase 480 hours of road patching services from Patch Management, Inc.. The company would use its Pothole Killer machine to repair city roads.

• Allocate more than $341,000 in casino revenues to purchase new equipment for the Niagara Falls Police Department’s SWAT team, including a SWAT vehicle, bullet proof vests and surveillance equipment.

• Approve a memorandum of agreement between the city and the Niagara Falls Fire Department that would extend the collective bargaining agreement between the parties for another four years.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257