The Montclair Parking Authority is no more.
The township council unanimously voted on Tuesday to dissolve the 10-year-old parking authority. By another unanimous vote, the council created the Montclair Parking Utility which will assume all control of the moribund parking authority starting Jan. 1, 2013.
Mayor Robert Jackson and the council said the move will help the town’s economic development in the long run.
“The ordinance -- I believe -- will allow us to move more aggressively some of the economic development goals that we’ve had and articulated since we’ve been in office,” said Jackson, “in terms of parking lots downtown and other municipal property.”
“I had envisioned the parking authority as a real partner in ... economic development ...,” said Councilor Rick McMahon.
In an unusual move, the council passed these measures during a conference meeting, where the council has typically only set agenda items for an upcoming regular meeting.
Business Manager Marc Dashield defended the timing of the vote.
"There is a time constraint here," said Dashield. "I've got a very short time frame to really turn over these operations .... If we are going to transfer to the [utility], January 1 is the perfect date because that is the new budget year."
The movement of parking operations from the now defunct authority to the utility will be a “smooth transition,” said Dashield, and will happen in three phases starting Jan. 1.
- Transition all parking operations to the township, such as personnel, equipment and contracts.
- Evaluate during the first quarter of 2013 how the township will operate the parking utility in the future. This includes inviting stakeholders and residents in to advise the township about parking policies in order to create, according to Dashield, “the most appropriate organizational structure.”
- Implement the final recommendations, which Dashield estimated will happen around March 2013.
During the transition, the parking in town will “look exactly the same," said Dashield. The current operating structure -- including rates, permits and ticketing -- will remain in place during the evaluation period, he added.
The council also unanimously voted to create a Parking Enforcement Officer, described as “officers and employees" in the ordiance, which township attorney Ira Karasick said were necessary to “implement the plan.”
A History of Mismanagement
The coup de grace for the parking authority comes after years of mismanagement and potentially missing funds, according to reports.
In October, a report done by former township business administrator Joseph Hartnett and township auditors found the authority in disarray -- suffering from a lack of rules and regulations -- and potentially missing $100,000 in utility bills.
Soon before that report was released, the state’s Department of Community Affairs’ Local Finance Board voted unanimously to approve the township’s desire to eliminate the authority.
While the absorption of the parking authority will place control of parking operations in the hands of the township, Councilor Sean Spiller considered the potentially high costs and expectations associated with it.
“I think the big driving forces behind this was the economic development piece,” said Spiller. “Certainly we are all looking to address the parking issue ... but there are limitations there.
“Everybody would love to see the newest technology, like new meters, but there is a heavy cost associated with that. I know [the parking authority] was burdened with a lot of debt ... and we are going to be faced with these same challenges.”