During the tourist season in Santa Fe, it’s all about parking, parking, parking. And on Monday, the City Council’s Public Works Committee approved three items related to parking, including writing off more than $250,000 in unpaid parking tickets, some dating as far back as 1999.
The committee first approved authorization of a $1.6 million loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority to pay for the installation of a parking system in three of the city’s off-street parking garages and other related improvements.
The committee then approved a $1.5 million contract with Denver-based Mountain Parking Equipment to install the Parking Access and Revenue Control System (PARCS) parking systems in the city’s three parking garages.
According to a fiscal impact report, the new system is expected to increase parking revenue by about $400,000 per year, while reducing operating expenses by about $200,000.
Parking Division Director Noel Correia said in an interview after the meeting that the system will monitor parking for about 1,370 parking spaces in the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, Railyard and Sandoval Street parking garages.
Finally, the committee approved writing off up to $269,341 in bad debt from uncollected parking tickets, though some councilors expressed concern over that amount of money.
Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler wondered if there was a better way to try to collect the unpaid parking bills.
“I tell you what, this is some big-time debt,” she said, adding that it was sending a message to the public that they don’t have to pay their parking tickets. “We could use this money.”
She said she was surprised to learn that parking tickets are no longer adjudicated in municipal court in Santa Fe.
“We don’t have any leverage any more,” she said.
Correia explained that, in 2016, the City Council voted to decriminalize parking tickets, partly because many of the cases were being dismissed by the court. Now, parking tickets are turned over to a collection agency, but the statute of limitations for parking tickets is just three years, he said.
“So anything older than three years makes it very hard to turn it over to a collection agency,” he said.
Councilor Renee Villarreal noted that there are about $97,000 worth of unpaid parking debt from the current calendar year.
Correia said that represented totals from tickets that were being dealt with by the collection agency now, were being appealed, or were tickets that were issued in the past two weeks. He said he expected much of that amount to eventually be collected.
All three of the items related to parking will require the approval of the full City Council in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday, the City Council will consider approving a proposed agreement between the city and the state Legislature, which operates a parking garage across from the state Capitol on Galisteo Street Monday through Friday, for the city to take over operation of the lot on weekends.