County coffers few quarters shy

Potential revenue is being lost by San Mateo County due to broken parking meters at the county center.

The county has 114 meters in its parking garage and 11 on the street in between the county center. Jim Porter, director of public works, acknowledged that 18 of the meters are currently broken.

“The problem is, these meters are 15 years old and no longer being made, so you can’t find the parts to fix them,” he said.

Since the meters are unable to collect payment, that means fewer coins in the county’s coffers at a time when the county is making cuts and budget adjustments to eliminate a $100 million general fund imbalance by FY 2013.

Porter said the county may replace the meters with updated machines, but that “depends on the budget.”

“We are looking at several options,” Porter said. “When we know the cost and where the money will come from, then we will know when we can do the project.”

The meters bring in about $66,000 annually, according to county officials, who said they did not have an estimate of how much revenue was lost due to broken machines.

Nadia Bledsoe, the business agent for the American Federation for State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 829, said in these tough economic times, the county should be more concerned about the broken meters because, “every penny — and quarter — counts these days.”

The Examiner observed the metered area of the parking garage for nearly one hour last week and found 35 of the meters in the parking garage had expired or were in violation and only four cars had tickets on them.

Of the 35 meters that were expired, five had notes on the windshield written by drivers stating the meter was broken.

Porter said the parking meter staff does not write tickets for cars parked in spots with broken meters.

“You caught us on one of our bad days,” he said.

Additionally, police or county vehicles occupied another five spots.

Porter said county employees face a difficult parking situation. With nearly 7,000 employees, there are only 400 spots allotted to county staff.

Nonetheless, Porter said, “we try to discourage staffers from parking in those spots.”

Often times drivers don’t know that the meter is broken until they put their money into the machine and it doesn’t register any time. If they move to another parking space with a working meter, that’s money lost.

That’s what happened to Justin Hoffman. The 33-year-old Danville resident was late for a lunch meeting with a client because he had to park his car three times in the county garage before finding an operating meter.

Frustration showed on Hoffman’s face as he plugged $3 into two different meters to no avail.

“It’s unreal,” he said. “This is a big problem.”

 

Waste of parking space

County Center parking, by the numbers:

  • $100 million: San Mateo County general fund structural deficit
  • $66,000: Amount San Mateo County earns annually from its parking meters near the county center
  • 125: Parking meters in the parking garage and on the street near the county center
  • 14 percent: Parking meters currently broken
  • 7,000: County employees
  • 400: Parking spaces allocated to county employees

Source: San Mateo County Public Works

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