WALNUT CREEK -- While the 2014-16 budget hash-out will continue May 6, there is one source of money for which city leaders seem to have reached consensus: parking.

At its April 15 meeting, the City Council gave preliminary approval of how to use the millions in parking revenue the city expects to reap over the next two years. For the first time, that money will not only help fund a variety of city services but will be saved to pay for future parking garages and used for downtown "enhancements," such a the new downtown police beat officers and parks division staffing.

In 2013, the council adopted a parking ordinance, responsible for the recently raised $2 an hour meter hike and the enforcement of meters from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sundays -- all part of a parking management plan.

This was done "with the goal of ensuring that there are a couple of spaces available on every block," said Matt Huffaker, assistant to the city manager, at the April 15 meeting. "We don't want it to be 100 percent parked-up during peak times; we want it to be easier for folks to find parking."

Last year, the council also established a parking and downtown enhancement fund -- separate from the city's general fund -- to clarify what parking revenue is used for and to spend it to reinvest in downtown. The city projects more than $7.2 million a year in gross parking revenue, of which $2 million is from the new meter rates and expanded time. There is added cost to the city for those rate hikes and longer hours; parking enforcement staffing will cost an additional $100,000 a year, and a $166,000 cost increase is expected in bank fees, as more credit card transactions are likely to pay for parking.


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When the city made the parking changes, officials said time and again that the reason was to help alleviate parking problems, and not make more money for the city. But now some of the money will be used to close the budget gap, though council members say any money spent must be consistent with the parking ordinance.

Examples of uses for annual parking revenue -- 10 percent toward emergency reserve to fund operations in case of natural disaster; 10 percent toward maintaining and replacing equipment; 5 percent toward a capital reserve to pay for future parking garage or major downtown project; $400,000 in 2014-15 and $2.4 million to the general fund, historically done to help to pay for various city costs.

"So the $2.4 million (to the general fund) comes off the top; really, this means that this still is not a true enterprise fund from my perspective," said Councilwoman Cindy Silva. "Which means it does affect the reserve allocations."

Parking money has been used traditionally in Walnut Creek to fund all manner of things, including the $11 million library garage.

Even after all the expenditures there will still be an unreserved fund balance of $154,000 in 2014-15 and $519,000 in 2015-16. Some residents have questioned why the city doesn't use more of the parking money to offset the budget deficits.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.

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