A divided Jersey City Council voted on Feb. 12 to introduce an ordinance that would abolish the Parking Authority and let the Department of Public Safety absorb its duties.
Council members Michael Yun and Richard Boggiano voted against the introduction, saying that they had not been made privy to the information early enough to make an intelligent decision.
Mayor Steven Fulop previously said that the consolidation will save millions in taxpayer dollars, improve enforcement, and create greater efficiency and transparency.
As part of the process, the City Council must seek permission from the state Division of Local Finance as well as pass an ordinance dissolving the agency.
The consolidation was studied by the city with a report on the agency’s finances (revenue, expenses, and debt.), operations, enforcement, and performance prepared by the law firm Weiner Lesniak, LLP, which was presented to council members just before the Feb. 11 caucus.
“Many of the job duties performed by the Parking Authority are already being performed by city staff,” said Fulop. “There is no reason a city taxpayer should be paying twice for the same service.”
Others can do the jobs
Specifically, many of the administrative functions such as payroll, administration of health benefits, etc. can be absorbed by the city staff already performing these duties. The maintenance of Parking Authority lots, for example, could be performed by the City’s Department of Public Works.
In addition to millions of dollars that are spent on duplicative administrative and operations functions that would be greatly reduced by the merger, the report cites potential cost benefits of dissolution in the sale of the agency’s Central Avenue building which is underutilized. It also cites a reduction in equipment, as well as the utilization of new technology to perform enforcement.
The report also says the city should be able to focus on scofflaws and outstanding payments that total more than $20 million.
But at the Feb. 11 caucus, Boggianno and Yun grilled representatives from the law firm about the downside of absorbing the authority.
“This will allow for greater accountability and cost effectiveness.” – Rolando Lavarro
Council President Rolando Lavarro, however, said it was understood from the start that Mayor Fulop intended to abolish the Parking Authority and that the firm had been taken on to find a way to accomplish this.
Hefty report but no time to read it
Both Yun and Boggiano were critical of the mayor’s office for dropping the report in their laps only a few days before the vote, although the city received the report in December.
Councilwoman Candice Osborne also said she lacked time to review the report in order to ask questions.
But Lavarro said council members would have time to review the report before they had to vote. He acknowledged that the purpose was to find a way to abolish the authority.
The council voted in September to retain the law firm of Weiner Lesniak to investigate operations at the authority.
The dissolution of the city’s autonomous agencies and the absorption of their functions back into the city was a campaign promise Fulop made when running for mayor early in 2013. Even when still a councilman, Fulop argued that getting rid of the city’s autonomous agencies will cut municipal costs, improve accountability, and streamline services.
The administration has also proposed merging the Jersey City Incinerator Authority, another autonomous agency, with the Department of Public Works.
The Parking Authority’s functions would be moved under the Traffic and Parking Division within the Department of Public Safety. Under the plan, parking enforcement personnel would also be given additional ticketing abilities to enforce quality of life issues.
Yun was skeptical when he voted against introducing the ordinance on Feb. 12.
“When we hired an independent report looking to close the parking authority, I voted for it. But how can I vote for this without the report giving us information that would allow us to decide it if was good idea?” he asked.
Yun said by decentralizing the parking authority, the city will face some serious parking issues.
Boggiano said he voted against the matter because he didn’t have time to read the report before being asked to vote.
“We were kept in the dog house on this,” he said.
But the rest of the council members voted to approve the introduction
Lavarro applauded the city’s moving forward to consolidate services.
“This will allow for greater accountability and cost effectiveness,” he said. “He made this clear from when he campaigned that he wanted to do this.”
Lavarro appointed Council members Joyce Watterman, Frank Gajewski and himself to a committee to oversee the abolition and to work with the administration.
“We have a parking problem in our city and this will help,” Lavarro said. “This will also cut costs.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.