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Parking Meter Firm Sends City Another Big Bill

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Parking Meter Pay Box

A Chicago parking meter pay box. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Another hefty bill has arrived at City Hall from the company that leases Chicago’s parking meters.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger and Steve Miller reports the Chicago Tribune says this latest bill for $22 million represents revenue lost to Chicago Parking Meters LLC, because of disabled drivers with legitimate placards and disability plates that allowed them to park for free.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

The latest bill brings to nearly $50 million the amount the firm so far has billed the city for revenue lost because of street closures and disability parking, the Tribune reported. So far, that does not even include street closures for the NATO Summit this past weekend.

On Thursday, Mayor Emanuel says he does not agree with the bill.

“I’ve said no and I can say no in many languages if it’s required,” he said. “I’m actually bilingual in that way and more than just bilingual.

“But I’m not doing it. Just because you sent the bill and just because in the past it was paid with no questions asked doesn’t mean going forward that’s how we’re going to operate.”

Thirty-Second War Ald. Scott Waguespack was one of only five City Council members to vote against the original deal pushed by then-Mayor Richard Daley. Now he is angry with everybody connected with it.

“Every time I see one of these bills I cringe and feel for the taxpayers because this is a type of taxation,” he tells CBS 2’s Mike Parker.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller Reports

Meanwhile, a bill that would crack down on cheaters is now on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk. The bill would eliminate free parking metered zones for all but the most severely disabled drivers, the Tribune reported.

If Quinn signs the bill, it will take effect in 2014.

Mayor Emanuel said earlier this month that he was rejecting a $14 million invoice that came in from the Morgan Stanley-controlled firm, for revenues lost when streets were closed for repairs, or for various neighborhood or citywide festivals last year.

“Just because you send a bill, I’m not going to ask taxpayers to pay it,” Emanuel said, “It’s a new day here.”

The city charges millions every time a street gets shut down.

For example, the six-corner intersection of Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues in Wicker Park was shut down six times in 2010 for movie shoots and free street festivals.

“Anytime that the city has to do something to the street – let’s say, a water main break goes down, or they have to repave, or there’s a street festival – the parking meter company has the ability, through the contract, to bill the city for the lost revenue,” Mike Brockway, creator of “The Expired Meter” blog, told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov in December.

This week, he tells CBS 2’s Mike Parker the company is within its rights to charge the city. He says Emanuel’s refusal to pay is merely symbolic.

“I don’t think it carries much weight except from a public-relations standpoint,” Brockway says.

In 2009, the bill for such lost revenue was $533,000. In 2010, it was $1.6 million, and last year, it was $2.2 million.

In what remains one of his most controversial decisions while in office, since-retired Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2008 persuaded the City Council to enter into a $1.157 billion, 75-year contract with Chicago Parking Meters LLC, a private firm operated by Morgan Stanley, to take over the city’s parking meters.

As a result of the decision, parking meter rates jumped across the city with built-in increases for the next five years – by next year, it will cost $6.50 per hour, or 26 quarters, to park in the Loop. Free Sunday and holiday parking were abolished, and the traditional meters were replaced with pay boxes that many complained would often malfunction.

While the City Council approved the deal, some aldermen later said they didn’t have a chance to give it a full analysis. Meanwhile, the city Inspector General’s office indicated the city could have reaped $1 billion more for the meters than it got in the deal.

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