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The Allentown Parking Authority is facing a $1.8 million budget shortfall. Here’s how it will address it, including raising parking rates

The Allentown Parking Authority office is seen Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in the city.
April Gamiz/첥Ƶ
The Allentown Parking Authority office is seen Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in the city.
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The Allentown Parking Authority is facing a $1.8 million shortfall in its approximately $13 million 2023 budget, which it partially attributed to a rollback in parking patrols last year in response to resident outrage.

“Last year was not a good year for the parking authority,” board chair Ted Zeller said at a Wednesday board meeting.

In response, the parking authority will raise parking deck and permit rates later this year. It is also asking Allentown City Council to allow them to raise on-street parking rates and the price of parking ticket violations.

The parking authority attributed approximately $1 million of the shortfall to a reduction in parking enforcement revenue that resulted from its rollback of some parking enforcement procedures last year. Another $400,000 loss came from emergency repairs to the Spiral parking deck, and $400,000 as a result of a delayed plan to refinance the authority’s debt on the Maple Street parking deck.

The authority’s board in April last year adjusted its “active patrol” hours from 24/7 patrolling to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with no active patrols Sunday. The authority still keeps its hotline open 24/7 to respond to parking-related safety complaints, but parking enforcement officers did not actively patrol the city for violations.

The change in policy was prompted by an influx in complaints from residents who said they were being excessively and unfairly ticketed. A Morning 첥Ƶ analysis found that the number of parking tickets issued in Allentown jumped by 117% between January 2022 and January 2023.

In response to the complaints, the parking authority also rolled out an appeals system where drivers can challenge tickets they believe are undeserved. In 2023, the authority received 2,421 ticket appeals, and overturned or reduced them to warnings for 48% of them.

The budget shortfall is the first Zeller can recall in his nine years on the parking authority board. He said the parking authority is not “upside down” and can recover from the loss, but ongoing financial issues could put at risk future parking projects like building surface lots and decks in dense parts of the city that need more parking.

The parking authority manages six parking decks and 22 parking lots in the city. The city of Allentown does not guarantee the parking authority’s debt, so city finances are not directly at risk because of the deficit.

At a Wednesday board meeting, the parking authority’s board unanimously approved several rate increases, including upping the hourly rate in the authority’s six decks from $1 to $2 an hour, raising parking deck monthly permits from $100 to $125 a month, and upping the rate of surface lot monthly permits, which vary from $25 to $75 in monthly price, by $5.

The hourly increases to deck parking will go into effect in April, surface lot permits will increase in June and deck permits will increase in price in July. Allentown joins neighboring Bethlehem in increasing parking rates — that city plans to increase on-street parking rates in the city’s busiest areas from $1.50 to $2.50, according to WFMZ.

The Allentown authority’s board also discussed, but opted not to re-implement, round-the-clock parking patrols after some board members opposed the move.

“If they bring [overnight patrols] back, we are going to be back to where we were, because everything’s still the same,” said board member Yamillett Gomez.

The authority opted to phase out a double parking policy that prompted parking officers to honk a horn at people who are “doubled parked” before issuing a ticket. That resulted in a reduction of around 100 double parking tickets on average each month to about five, but it also exacerbated the problem of double parking in the city, as drivers, after being honked at, would circle the block and return to their illegal space, Zeller said.

“It’s just not working,” Zeller said.

Double parking tickets, which cost $100, are among the most expensive the city issues.

These changes the board made are expected to bring in an additional $1.17 million in revenue to help close the gap. But the authority will need City Council’s approval to make major overhauls to parking ticket rates.

According to a parking authority analysis, most Allentown parking ticket rates are well below that of other similar-sized cities. Many types of parking tickets in Allentown will run the driver only $15, including parking in a no parking zone, within 15 feet of a fire station, on the sidewalk, in a crosswalk, or in an intersection.

Those violations cost between $35 and up to $100 in comparable cities such as  Reading, Lancaster, Easton, Bethlehem and York. The city has not raised parking ticket rates in more than 20 years, Zeller said, so authority officials believe that now is the time in order to recover lost revenue and deter dangerous and unlawful parking.

“The penalties for tickets become toothless, because they do not encourage compliance, which is the whole point of enforcement,” Zeller said.

The authority is also looking to raise the cost of street parking in the central business district from $2 to $2.50 an hour. But because parking ticket rates and on-street parking rates are set by the city, it will need City Council approval for the change.

Parking authority officials plan to appear in front of City Council this month to make their case, board member Santo Napoli, who is also a council member, said. The parking authority will also hold a “parking forum workshop” 5 p.m. Monday at the Americus hotel, where authority staff will answer questions and offer advice and information about parking in Allentown.

Reporter Lindsay Weber can be reached at Liweber@mcall.com.

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