Mayor Tim Keller says he recognizes the importance of small business to the economic survival of Albuquerque – and is quick to extol his administration’s efforts to help.
Just last week his Economic Development Department announced a new round of grants up to $10,000 from federal CARES Act money to small businesses and locally owned franchises. “We are taking direct action to support the economic sustainability of Albuquerque small businesses and save jobs,” he said. And yet it would appear Keller never sent the memo to his Parking Division on the importance of helping small businesses during the economic devastation of COVID-19 and government-mandated shutdowns.
As reported in Monday’s Journal, the Parking Division recently decided this would be a good time to start charging businesses for loading zones – whether they had actually applied for loading zone permits or just happened to be associated with one.
So you can imagine Rory Veronda’s reaction when he got a letter informing him the loading zone in front of his business – Empire Board Game Library at Amherst and Central – would now cost him $500 a year. That’s supposedly for the painted curb and enforcement of 15 minutes of free parking. And that is NOT a negligible expense for his business.
Veronda, who had never been billed for what he says is a sort of community loading zone used by various businesses, called the city and learned it recently had moved the loading zone permits out of traffic engineering and into parking enforcement – a city division responsible for generating its own operating revenue. Nothing like the incentive of covering your own paycheck to fire up a department.
Charging for loading zones technically isn’t a new policy, but a city spokesman said tracking them had “fallen by the wayside.”
Not anymore. And not the usual fees. Under the old policy it had been $300 up front for a 20-foot zone and $105 a year to renew. Now, it’s $500 up front and $500 per year to renew. Talk about loading up on costs to small business.
Faced with pushback and questions from the Albuquerque Journal, the Parking Division now says through spokesman Johnny Chandler it erred by raising the fees during the pandemic and has decided to delay the increases for six months. That helps. But it should go back to the old model – or better yet abandon the fees.
If the city is as serious about economic development as Keller claims, it would be doing all it can to help the daily bottom lines of those who create jobs and provide services. That would be consistent with the comments by Economic Development Department director Synthia Jaramillo, who in announcing the grants said the city is “making every effort to not only speed up Albuquerque’s economic recovery but also ensure the funds are going to small businesses who are often hit hardest by business disruptions.”
And yet while one side of the administration is trying to woo and help businesses, the other is milking them for new fees.
This is the second Parking Division shakedown from which officials have recently backtracked (in part). Earlier this year they decided to start charging $25 per street-parking permit from residents living in areas like the University of New Mexico neighborhood – previously those had been free. Backlash and media scrutiny forced a partial rollback – although the end result makes little sense. The permit is still free if you go in person (yet the mayor and governor have told us to stay home) but $25 online. Go figure.
City Council President Pat Davis understandably was frustrated that the fee increase – and reasons behind it – hadn’t been communicated to the City Council. But the council has the ability to really fix this by changing the Parking Division – which had a $300,000 profit in the most recent fiscal year! – from an eat-what-you-kill operation to one based on actually serving the public.
After all, there’s a good reason we don’t tie police officer salaries to the number of citations they write.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.