BRIDGEPORT — Criticism of the new downtown automated parking meters has died down in the three months since the City Council halved the $40 fines and offered free Saturday parking.
But so has the revenue.
The new high-tech parking system, which was supposed to make the city money, is losing cash.
And it is unclear what Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration is doing to stabilize the situation after convincing the council in July not to fire private parking manager LAZ.
The changes in the fines and the free parking add up to a roughly $400,000 annual loss, while LAZ earns $385,000.
And with a mayoral aide in charge of parking and the city still running a municipal parking enforcement office, some have questioned what, exactly, LAZ is doing to earn its fee.
“We just can’t keep bleeding money,” Nestor Nkwo, the mayor’s budget chief, warned the council’s budget committee this past week.
Asked in an interview afterward if he backed severing ties with LAZ to recoup the losses, Nkwo said: “I’m advocating we stop losing money, simple as that.”
Nkwo said there are behind-the-scenes talks going on between the City Attorney’s office and LAZ, but could not provide further details.
According to Ganim’s office, the sides are “in contract negotiations” and will, when ready, update the council.
Meanwhile, in another parking-related complication, the city has not held ticket appeal hearings since August, resulting in a backlog of 350 appeals.
In July Michael Moretti, the elected city sheriff who volunteered as a judge at the hearings, said he was swamped with the spike in appeals and desperately needed help.
On Friday, Ed Adams, the mayoral aide in charge of parking, said in an email that Moretti had not quit, but he needs assistance and that the city is trying to address the situation.
“There have not been any plans to dismiss tickets,” Adams wrote.
Drivers with pending appeals like private attorneys Edward and Marc Krasnow have been awaiting an update.
Edward Krasnow has insisted he and other disabled drivers are exempt under state law from paying the meters. He and his son successfully appealed some parking tickets in April, but the elder Krasnow has since racked up over two dozen more.
“As far as I know we’re just in limbo,” Marc Krasnow said.
The parking meters were installed curbside last winter in certain downtown neighborhoods, replacing the coins-only equipment. The new technology accepts credit cards and payments by mobile phone. But it also uses cameras to strictly enforce payment and to catch violators and issue tickets through the mail.
Some downtown businesses and council members complained that the technology was too aggressive and had not been properly publicized by the Ganim administration.
At one point over the summer the council debated whether to place a moratorium on the meters, which were provided by Minnesota-based Municipal Parking Services, and to fire Hartford-based LAZ.
But after MPS threatened legal action and after MPS, LAZ and the city made assurances they would find an amicable way to amend contracts and improve the meters, the council settled for reducing the fines and offering free parking on Saturdays.
Nkwo at that time had warned council members that the changes could cost up to $457,000 a year in revenues.
Neither LAZ nor MPS could be reached for comment for this story.
Councilman Jack Banta, who represents the downtown and wanted a moratorium on the meters, said he has received no updates on the situation.
“I hope their (LAZ’s) contract is terminated,” Banta said. “We’re not getting anything out of the deal.”