The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

City Council Meeting 09/11/2012

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The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2012. In a break with tradition, I attended the meeting in person instead of watching from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.

After roll call and announcements and proclamations, council passed most of the consent agenda unanimously. Council member Don Monty requested that Item 4.5 and Item 4.7 be pulled for discussion.

Item 4.5 (pdf) would have set the council meeting schedule for calendar year 2013. Council member Monty was concerned that there were too few meetings during the summer, with only one scheduled meeting per month during June, July, August, and September (ed. note – there would also only be one meeting scheduled for February).

Monty proposed adding a second meeting to both June and August. Mayor Joel Fritzler opposed the idea, preferring to schedule special meetings as needed. Council member Wissmann suggested approving the schedule as prepared, then coming back later to add more meetings if necessary. Monty then asked that the item be tabled and Wissmann complied, withdrawing his motion.

Item 4.7 (pdf), an ordinance accepting a grant from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to purchase equipment, and also to approve funds for hiring a new fire fighter, passed 6-1 with only Monty opposed. Monty pulled the item from the consent agenda because the ordinance didn’t contain language addressing a majority of the budget adjustments, instead incorporating them as Exhibit A. This was the last item on the consent agenda and council then moved on to general business.

Item 5.1 (pdf), an ordinance approving a budget adjustment related to the creation of the proposed downtown TIF district, passed unanimously and without comment or discussion, although council member Lance Jack did not vote because he owns a business surrounded by the proposed TIF district, but exempt from it.

By my count, this is the third TIF-related item to pass unanimously and without or nearly without comment. I realize this was a minor item, not the final ordinance establishing the TIF district. I also realize that people in Carbondale desperately want to improve the downtown area – a desire that I share and that I’ve written about before. But we need to be very careful with this TIF district, and with plans to redevelop the downtown.

Item 5.2 was a resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute a contract with the Carbondale Park District (CPKD). This was the $100k pool giveaway. I’m on record opposing the transfer of city funds to the park district without attaching the condition that the park district agree to annex their property into the city (for the property that is currently contiguous to the city) and to sign annexation agreements for all property not contiguous to the city. I support a public pool, but I oppose a tax giveaway with no strings attached.

Unfortunately, the public enthusiasm for another public pool trumped common sense, and the pool giveaway passed 6-1, with only council member Jane Adams opposed. Adams said she supported the pool, but opposed on principle the transfer of funds from one taxing body to another.

Mayor Joel Fritzler invoked the same principle when he voted against providing city funds for the District 95 summer reading and math program. Apparently, Fritzler believes it’s inappropriate to use city funds to help disadvantaged children learn to read and do math, but he thinks it is perfectly fine to use city funds to build a swimming pool owned and operated by another taxing body. He has an interesting set of priorities.

Item 5.3 (pdf), an ordinance amending the Carbondale Revised Code as it relates to parking fines and fees, was the subject of nearly two hours of discussion and debate. It seems that the problem was that city staff sprang several changes on the council in the moments immediately before the meeting, which caused problems in the ordinance.

The fee and fine changes were originally proposed to fill a deficit in the city’s parking program. After several last minute changes were incorporated, the new ordinance would have wiped out any revenue gains and possibly even increased the deficit. The ordinance probably should have simply been pulled from the agenda, corrected, and brought back to the next council meeting. Instead, the problems were ironed out in open session, wasting the time of council members, city staff, and viewers both at home and in the audience.

Ultimately, the ordinance was amended three times. The Adams Amendment restored enforcement hours to 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Before this amendment, the enforcement hours would have been 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The reduction in enforcement hours was responsible for much of the drop in revenue, and would have defeated the purpose of changing the fines and fees. The Adams Amendment passed 4-3, with council members Corene McDaniel and Chris Wissmann, and Mayor Fritzler opposed.

Monty Amendment 1, changed language in the ordinance to allow the use of senior parking permits during the day and evening in city lots used for Amtrak parking, but denying use of senior parking permits for overnight parking in those lots. Before this amendment, the ordinance would have denied use of senior parking permits in the lots reserved for Amtrak parking during both the daytime and overnight. The amendment passed unanimously. I would have voted against it if I had a vote.

Monty Amendment 2 clarified certain language relating to use of senior parking permits. There were some inconsistencies in the ordinance as written by staff that left it unclear whether senior parking permits could be used only by a single individual, or by all qualifying seniors within a household. Monty Amendment 2 changed the language to make it explicit that all qualifying seniors within a household are eligible to use the same senior parking permit. The amendment passed unanimously.

After three amendments and  nearly two hours of discussion, the entire ordinance passed 5-2, with council members Corene McDaniel and Chris Wissmann opposed. I think passing the ordinance was the right thing to do, but I also think we need a better plan for parking downtown. This should be included in the TIF plans, if council ever discusses them before voting on them.

Council member Lance Jack had the best line of the night when he suggested that the city build a garage for Amtrak parking and overflow parking, and charge people the fees necessary to pay for it. I agree with the idea of a garage in the downtown, although I might approach it a little differently.

Mayor Fritzler made the most foolish comment of the evening when he said he wished parking downtown was free 24/7 and made the claim that the mall has free parking. Free parking isn’t really free. The parking at the mall is a perfect example. The city subsidized the parking at the mall several years ago. We can debate whether that was a good idea or not, but we can’t claim it’s free. The costs are hidden. The same is true with parking lots not directly subsidized by the city. We pay for the parking at a restaurant when we pay for our meal. There is no such thing as free parking; there’s no such thing as free anything.

I could go on for hours about parking, but it’s late (as I type this) and I realize that most people aren’t as interested in our parking policies as I am. I’ll spare you a long discussion of parking, but I want to add one other thing. I’m extremely skeptical that anyone anywhere has ever decided not to go to a downtown because they didn’t want to come up with a quarter or two for parking. The idea that parking meters dissuade people from coming downtown is foolish, and the fact that at least some of our elected officials can’t see that is alarming, at least to me.

One last point. The idea that we are all entitled to “free” parking right outside the door of our destination is foolish, but it is also dangerous. By many estimates, our cars consume more land than our houses. Each car requires a parking space at home, at work, and at shopping and dining destinations, among other places. Sprawl development is largely a problem caused by cars and the need for wasteful parking. Our cities and towns are presently built for cars rather than for people. Other options are available.

Item 5.3 was the final item on the general business agenda. After brief public comments and brief council comments, council adjourned at 10:01 p.m.

Comments are welcome.

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