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City Council’s last meeting of the year featured a full agenda, but plenty of good will and holiday wishes to go around. Technology improvements and added fees, decided upon long ago, were the highlights.
A new license plate recognition system will mean that citizens need to be all the more mindful of two-hour parking limits. At a cost of almost $120,000, the City is purchasing two devices to be mounted in parking-enforcement vehicles. Currently, enforcement in two-hour limit zones is accomplished by marking car tires with chalk and then checking to see if the car has moved. Scanning the license plate is a quicker and less labor-intensive method, but moving the car around the block and lucking into the same parking spot is no longer an option. The recognition system will not be able to tell that the car left the spot.
Staff recommended a bid from Avrio RMS Group rather than a bid from PlateScan that would cost about $50,000 less over five years. According to the staff memo, PlateScan is used mostly for law enforcement, not for parking. None of the aldermen questioned the decision to go with the higher bid.
Field arrest and field interview software will be added to the police department’s in-car technology array. It will no longer be necessary to process every arrest and write every report at the station, as software combined with laptop computers allows most of the work to be done in the field – at a cost of about $55,000. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked why the funding could not come from the 9-1-1 fund, saying “it just seems like a perfect expenditure” from that fund.
“[The] 9-1-1 [fund] is already oversubscribed,” said City Manager Wally Bobkewicz. He said he took responsibility for bringing this purchase to Council despite the oversubscription, because he saw the opportunity to make the police department more efficient is worth the cost.
Parking-ticket scofflaws will have to pay 25 percent more for violations. The City’s parking ticket collection agent, Duncan Solutions, Inc., keeps 25 percent of what it collects on delinquent parking tickets. Council voted to add a 25 percent collection fee to all such tickets. According to the staff memo, “The purpose of the add-on fee is to pass on the burden of collections cost to the citizen violator.” Based upon last year’s collections, the City expects to garner about $120,000 this year on the backs of parking ticket shirkers.
Two potentially controversial items were held by the council to be addressed in January. First, the Howard-Hartrey TIF fund has a surplus of about $1.3 million that staff proposes should be distributed to the taxing authorities. Schools would get about two-thirds, with the City and County splitting the rest. Ald. Rainey moved that the measure be tabled to a date certain in January in order to seek input into what the schools do with the extra money. As yet unaddressed is the staff recommendation that the TIF, which is scheduled to close in December 2015, close instead at the end of 2012.
The sale of 1817 Church St. to a contractors’ cooperative will have to wait. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, asked that the measure be tabled to a date certain so she could have certain questions answered, though she did not indicate these concerned. The property, once slated to become an African American museum and cultural center but vacant since those plans fell through, has been owned by the City since 2007. A group of independent contractors wants to buy the property and run their businesses out of the building. Ten members of the Northshore Contractors Cooperative left Mondays’ meeting without a decision from the City as to their proposal.
Then came the increases. At the request of Ald. Rainey, the City’s bills list included a sample “water” bill. While water usage averages less than $10 month, “by the time you get the water bill out of the envelope, the average is $129.81” she said. “I just wanted to show the aldermen how much it costs. Water, sewer, garbage ” it’s everything. And it’s starting to be really painful.”
As if on cue, the Consent Agenda included increases to parking meters, parking fines, false fire alarm fees, a 5 percent increase in water rates, increases of $4 ($1 for the smaller cart) per month for garbage collection, and fines for putting electronics in the garbage. The average water bill is about to go up.
With that, Council wished each other happy holidays and called it a year.