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Colorado Springs Parking Enterprise mulling rate increases

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Springs Parking Enterprise Director Scott Lee is examining options for raising rates for both on-street and city garage parking. Internal documents obtained by SpringsTaxpayers.com, including emails and spreadsheets, indicate that Lee is looking to substantially increase parking fees over the next five years.

Lee, who was hired in November, started his career in parking management at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana in 2010, eventually taking the position of Parking Services Manager of San Luis Obispo, California before coming to Colorado Springs.

Lee believes that parking rates in Colorado Springs are substantially below those of other Colorado cities and are well below commercial rates. He says that rates have been increased once in 20 years.

According to a Powerpoint presentation by Lee, Colorado Springs parking structure rates are 20% of average competitor’s hourly rate, 17% of their evening rate, 63% of the individual monthly rate and 53% of the large group rate.

Lee is suggesting that meter parking increase $.25 per hour annually for the next five years along with extending meter hours and “progressive pricing” that would charge a higher rate for “more desirable” parking spaces by creating four tiers of meter pricing.

In 2020 Lee projects that Tier 1 meter revenues will be more than $1.3 million with Tiers 2 and 3 generating more than $800,000 and Tier 4 meters generating only about $15,000. Those revenues would increase by 2025 to $2.21 million, $1.41 million, $1.72 million and $38,800 respectively.

Over the next ten years, Lee forecasts an increase in total operating revenues from $4.62 million in mid-year 2019 to $10.38 million in 2030 with unreserved working capital increasing from $8.76 million in mid-year 2019 to $22.89 million in 2030.

Projects in planning include replacing the parking payment system currently used in the parking structures, that Lee says forfeits revenues by leaving gates open after hours, with a new $1 million system that will collect fees 24/7 and add features making parking more convenient and quick and providing more accurate data collection.

Lee wants to spend $1.2 million on the “Parks and Museum Streetscape project” along Vermijo near the new Olympic Museum and he wants to allocate $1 million per year as a maximum capital improvement project budget.

Replacing the more than 2,500 parking meters with newer technology that can offer a mobile pay option is another priority for Lee.

But Lee has a problem to resolve if he’s going to raise the parking structure monthly rates.

Several downtown businesses have long-term contracts for parking keycards that prohibit the city from raising their rates.

There are 2,638 parking stalls in the three downtown parking structures. Keycards have been issued to 2,980 people or companies.

In a partial March 11, 2019 email from Lee to Lisa O’Boyle of the City Attorney’s office obtained by SpringsTaxpayers.com, Lee says, “The issue at hand is in the specific language in both contracts that is inconsistent and likely will cause issues if the rate changes being proposed to Council in April 2019 are approved.”

Speaking of two representative contracts for monthly parking with Colorado Interstate Gas and Plaza of the Rockies, Lee continues, “I have learned that it was part of a package to keep them in the downtown area. Obviously Jeff [Jeff Greene is the Mayor’s Chief of Staff] and the Mayor do not want to harm this relationship, so I am looking for a solution. The Co. Inter. Gas parking contract states on top of page 2, the City will not increase or decrease the monthly fees for the initial term of the Agreement (thru June 2023). The rate is therefore fixed at $50 per card per month until then. The Plaza contract states in Section 5, …that in no event will the City charge Grantee more than the prevailing rate charged to any other general public user of the garage excluding City and COS Utilities employees and vehicles.”

Lee admits that even if the per-month parking rates are raised, those with contracts cannot be charged the new fees.

But Lee suggests to O’Boyle his idea of a loophole that might be used to void the contracts.

“The Kinder Morgan agreement, and all the others, do have language that states the City Council acting in its legislative capacity may terminate the Agreement upon a finding that termination in necessary for the health, safety, or welfare of the City of Colorado Springs’ citizens. One could argue that this is applicable to maintain the necessary financial health of the Parking Enterprise Fund and to not disproportionately charge one group of users over another, or to subsidize one group at the expense of the others,” writes Lee.

What other reasoning Lee might have presented in the email, and any response from O’Boyle about the legal propriety of using the health, safety and welfare clause to nullify a contract so he can raise the rates are not available.

When Rebecca Marshall of SpringsTaxpayers.com, who made the Colorado Open Records Act request and provided the information to Complete Colorado for this story, asked the city to provide the balance of the email the city replied, “The City inadvertently provided the email exchange previously and denies your request for the remaining complete email pursuant to Colorado Revised Statute § 24-72-204(3)(a)(IV), as it contains attorney-client privilege.”

Corresponding with Complete Colorado, Marshall said, “I have no words for this. Are they serious?”

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