Parking revenue in Saint Paul is rising again thanks to the return of downtown events and employees. That is good news for city officials as they begin the 2023 budget process. City Council members reviewed parking revenue and enforcement at two policy sessions last month.
The bottom fell out on the city’s parking meter revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meter revenue was around $4.4 million in both 2017 and 2018, dipping slightly to $3.7 million in 2019. However, the revenue dropped to $1.6 million in 2020 and $1.9 million last year.
Parking tickets also declined during the pandemic, but are now increasing. Last year 8,727 parking citations were written. This year, parking enforcement officers (PEOs) are on pace for writing more than 10,000 citations.
Revenue from parking meters, city-owned parking ramps and lots, and parking tickets go into the city’s general fund, said Stacy Murphy, deputy police chief for community engagement. The pandemic-related losses in that revenue were part of shortfalls that had to be made up in the 2021 and 2022 city budgets. When the proposed 2023 city budget is unveiled in August, a better picture should emerge of how the revenue affects next year’s spending.
One outcome of the council’s review could be to hire more PEOs in the city’s upcoming 2023 budget process, said council president Amy Brendmoen. City officials are hearing more complaints about illegal parking, with issues ranging from abandoned vehicles to vehicles parked in violation of posted regulations.
Saint Paul has 12 PEOs, and just one opening currently available. In previous years, the Police Department had as many as 16 PEOs, allowing for better citywide coverage as well as overnight shifts. PEOs currently work between 7 a.m.-11 p.m., seven days a week, except for holidays.
Parking revenue cannot be used to directly pay for PEOs or related services, and must go into the general fund to be shared by all city departments. Police are prohibited by law from writing tickets with the intent of generating revenue or meeting quotas.
Saint Paul has approximately 1,900 parking meters, Murphy said. Most meters are downtown, in the Capitol area and along University Avenue.
Despite adding meters on a stretch of West Seventh Street several years ago, the number of meters citywide has declined since the light-rail Green Line began operating in 2014, Murphy said. Some downtown and University meters were removed when on-street parking was lost. Other downtown meters and parking spots have been lost to bicycle lanes.
Metered parking is enforced from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is free on Sundays and holidays. PEOs primarily respond to complaints and monitor meters using devices in their vehicles. They check permit parking zones, assist with tags and tows, and help with parking issues when a street is signed for sweeping or other work.
Council members expressed some frustrations with parking enforcement. Ward 2 council member Rebecca Noecker said she has a business constituent who paid for signage to restrict parking. Yet a nearby resident kept parking in the signed space, racking up 25 unpaid parking tickets in the process. The miscreant’s vehicle was finally towed.
Noecker questioned why it took so long for action to be taken, calling the situation “infuriating.”
City officials do not know exactly how much money parking tickets bring in each year. The general fund gets about two-thirds of the revenue from citations, but that can include speeding tickets, DUIs and other offenses. The district court does not separate information on types of citations.
— Jane McClure
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