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Mayor Orders Audit Of Parking Meter Deal

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Parking Meter Pay Box

A Chicago parking meter pay box. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered an independent audit of the controversial $1.15 billion parking meter lease, to determine whether the city is being overcharged.

WBBM’s Bernie Tafoya reports the mayor wants to make sure that long-term contracts to oversee city assets are being managed correctly.

Emanuel said Monday morning the city has had the power to audit Chicago Parking Meters LLC since the deal started under his predecessor, former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“It’s an authority we have; never been exercised. And I think [it’s] high time – for the taxpayers of the city of Chicago, and the residents – we’re going to have an audit of them,” he said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya Reports

The 75-year deal Daley made with Chicago Parking Meters LLC requires the city to pay the company when parking meters are not able to be used – due to street closures for festivals, road construction, or other reasons.

The city has challenged a $14 million bill it received over the summer, for revenue lost when streets were closed for various parades and festivals, and road work last year.

That bill came on the heels of a $13.5 million tab issued by the parking meter firm, from lost revenue from drivers who used disabled parking placards to get free parking at the city’s meters.

According to the mayor’s office, Chicago Parking Meters LLC has billed the city more than $50 million overall.

“As you know, I’ve refused to pay the company, number one, because they just throw a number down, say ‘Here’s what you owe us,’” he said. “I’m not paying something I don’t understand the bill, we don’t know what the basis is. So the foundation is let’s get an audit.”

Emanuel wants an outside auditor to determine whether the charges are appropriate, as well as whether Chicago Parking Meters LLC is living up to its end of the deal.

The mayor wouldn’t say Monday if he’s looking for a way out of the parking meter deal, but as said all along the parking meter lease was a bad deal, and he is examining it.

The deal has been extremely unpopular since the beginning, after Daley rammed it through the City Council in 2008 with little debate.

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 were plagued by malfunctions shortly after the deal went into place.

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. Virtually all of the $1.15 billion the city received from the deal has already been spent.

But Mayor Daley defended the deal, saying it prevented a tax increase and service cuts.

The audit of the parking meter deal will be followed by audits of the Chicago Skyway lease, and a lease of the city’s lakefront parking garages, according to the mayor’s office.

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