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Welcome to the Bethlehem Gadfly!

Definition of gadfly
1: any of various flies that annoy livestock

2: a person who stimulates other people especially by persistent criticism
3: someone who challenges people in positions of power

The main goal of the Gadfly blog is to provide a space for healthy public dialogue about issues of concern to Bethlehem, Pa., residents. All sides, all perspectives welcome.

For good examples of in-depth coverage of continuing serious issues, see the threads onGadfly 54 candidates for election, Martin Tower, Parking, and on 2 W. Market St.

As context for and balance to the serious issues, we also have some fun stuff relating to Bethlehem as well.

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The Gadfly — Ed Gallagher — would like to hear from you!

Looking at BPA numbers (3)

(97th in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly back in headquarters. Yard all tidy.

You and I are just walking through some of the relevant BPA documents seeing what we can see.

Salaries — are the BPAers fat cats?

Salaries are not broken down on the budget sheets (page 4). To be expected. And Gadfly would not be able to get them through a “Right-to-Know” request either. Confidential.

The Exec Director has been in the saddle five years. His starting salary was published in the newspaper when he was hired. It’s a good salary. But it seemed to Gadfly commensurate with the nature and scope of the job and probably roughly on par with City department heads. It doesn’t look like an easy job.

Last year while engaged in controversy with BPA, Gadfly wanted to know who pays the Exec’s salary — who signs the pay check — and if there were performance reviews. Gadfly was trying to identify the “chain of command” for purposes of accountability. The BPA is considered “independent.” But what does that mean? Who does the Exec report to? So Gadly asked (Right to Know) for a copy of the original contract (salary redacted) and evidence of performance reviews (though, of course, not a review itself). He wasn’t told he couldn’t have this information; he was told there were no contracts or performance reviews. Gadfly was stunned. Really?

Language in newspaper articles makes it sound as if the BPA Board hires the Exec. Is then the Exec. responsible to the Board not the Mayor? Gadfly wishes he knew more about accountability in the BPA. Much more.

The BPA has a solicitor. Gadfly has no personal basis for knowing, but he has been told that the solicitor is a politically powerful person in the City. There is a line in the BPA budget for “professional fees – legal,” which was $41,847 for 2018. Gadfly is not sure if that category applies only to the solicitor. The City Council solicitor earns about $25,000.

Does the BPA board get paid? Gadfly is not sure. He believes, for instance, that some of the resident members of some of the ABCs in the City do get a small, token remuneration. The present Chair of the Board has held that position since 2008. There are long-time members of various ABCs (Authorities, Boards, Commissions), so his tenure is long but might not be all that unusual. But it would be interesting to know for sure whether there is any remuneration.

If your antennae are up, you will have heard Gadfly wonder here and there if BPA Board members play active roles in BPA decisions. Gadfly took notice this description in the 2018 Desman report (page 41):

Meetings of the BPA Board are held regularly, typically on a monthly basis. During Board Meetings, the Executive Director of the Parking Authority reports to the Board on the financial performance of the Authority’s assets, informs the Board of new initiatives impacting the parking system and, periodically, seeks changes to off-street parking rates.

Look at the wording. The resident Board is reported to by the Exec and is informed by the Exec. Interestingly, there is nothing here about the Board taking an active, initiatory, agenda-setting, or critical role. Maybe we shouldn’t make too much of this. But this description surely squares with my observation of a passive Board. Which is not good.

Peter perspectives (96)

(96th in a series of posts on parking)

Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

You say “Gadfly has sensed no hue and cry among the parking populace about the 50% rise in meter rates January 1.” . . . I’ve heard many people mocking Bethlehem’s high meter rates. Is a “hue and cry” required?

Point for Peter!

“Who cares whether there’s a Polk Street Garage or not?” I have a more basic question: is it even legal to use its public status & revenues to build a garage wherever they want? — Suppose it is primarily to benefit developers (who would otherwise have to provide their own parking)?

I think we should lock somebody in a closet until we get an answer to that one — but who?

Peter

Gadfly reprints these previous comments in case WordPress’s design caused you to overlook them.

A pause for reflection (95)

(95th in a series of posts on parking)

This kind of number stuff is not Gadfly’s cup o’ tea.

(More cliches from the English prof.)

Gonna take a break and do some yard work.

Gotta assess damage from the storm.

Think of this as a pause to reflect.

Are some of you saying “who cares whether there’s a Polk Street Garage or not?”

“Who cares what the parking costs in the downtowns?”

“It doesn’t affect me or my neighborhood.”

Gadfly gets it. He’s old. Amazon and PeaPod are members of the family. His backyard is all he needs. He doesn’t go “downtown” all that much. The increased parking meter rate startled him into rooting around in the car for more change, but it didn’t raise his blood pressure. So Gadfly gets it. A parking garage on 3rd Street can feel like a distant concern.

But you know I’ve been reading urban walking guru Jeff Speck, not only Walkable City (2012) and Walkable City Rules (2018) but also the report he did for Bethlehem: The City Livable Modest Proposals for a More Walkable Downtown (2009).

In the Bethlehem report he says an important and relevant thing:

Other neighborhoods may be in greater need of assistance. But it is important to remember that a city’s downtown is its one neighborhood that really belongs to every resident, wherever they may live.

In addition, the condition of a city’s downtown plays a disproportionate role in the city’s reputation and thus its future success.

Make a residential neighborhood better, and its residents benefit. Make the downtown better, and the entire city benefits.

Gadfly will see you again on the other side of some yard work.

Be thinking.

Looking at BPA numbers (2)

(94th in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly jumped ahead of himself last time and headed right in to the meter v. fine situation that will probably need to be decided in the next meeting or two.

Hold on, Big Fella!

Sit back for a moment and look at bigger picture.

He’s always wondered what the BPA budget looks like.

How  about you?

Ever wondered what all those coins going in to meters add up to.

It’s rather astounding when you see it on the cold statistical sheet.

Look at “meters” at line 30 under Revenues: https://thebethlehemgadfly.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/bpa-presentation-7-2-19-city-council-draft.pdf

In 2018 our coin and credit cards produced $1,976,547 at curbside.

And $2,268,925 is projected for 2019.

Crazy to think about that much as you plunk your quarters in, no?

And that’s $292,378 more annually from the increase in meter rates that went into effect January 1.

And have you ever wondered if the BPA is lining its pockets with our coins?

Look at the revenue/expense bottom line.

In 2019 a projected $6,688,263 in revenue minus $4,948,279/1,589,000 in outgo renders a bottom line of only $150,984 in the petty cash jar (lines 34, 38, 39, 45, 46).

(Now, of course, one would have to look more closely at the minus items to make sure they are legit to make sure the BPA truly wasn’t lining its pockets!)

The 2019 budget 2019 BPA Budget FINAL (page 7) has slightly different numbers, and the bottom line there is a residue of $122,981.

But either way — $150,984 or $122,981 — the cold statements would seem to show that BPA is playing it fairly close to the vest (ugh, English profs are supposed to avoid cliches) in a budget in which revenues are edging toward $7m/yr. .

Now, one other thing Gadfly was looking for was how much Desman and those kinds of consultants get paid.

Whew! Bit of a choker!

$255,219 in 2018.

$198,459 projected in 2019.

(BPA Presentation – 7-2-19 – City Council – DRAFT Page 4: why are those numbers in blue?)

The 2019 BPA Budget FINAL page 9 has different numbers for 2018, same for 2019.

Interesting, no?

What are you seeing?

What are you thinking?

Looking at BPA numbers (1)

(93rd in a series of posts on parking)

Let’s look at the “pro forma” presented at the July 2 City Council meeting to support the BPA’s ability to carry a private loan for construction of the $16.8m Polk Street Garage.

BPA Presentation – 7-2-19 – City Council – DRAFT

Here are some of the things that Gadfly’s thinking about browsing the document:

  • Note two “scenarios”: 1) the financial bottom line with an increase in fines in tandem with the increase in meter rates that occurred in January and 2) the financial bottom line without an increase.
  • The rather surprising conclusion is that the fine increases are not necessary to service the private loan debt.
  • One wonders, then, how strongly the BPA will push for the proposed increase in the fine structure.
  • The BPA indicates it will push for the fine increases for “policy” reasons — there is an industry standard for the relationship between meter rates and fines and higher fines help increase curbside turnover that is good for business.
  • Logically, commonsensically, violations need to incur a substantial financial penalty to do their work.
  • But, again, the fine money is not needed for the loan.
  • Parenthetically, Gadfly has sensed no hue and cry among the parking populace about the 50% rise in meter rates January 1 nor has there been dire catastrophe, as predicted, in the past six months from not raising the penalty rates.
  • As far as Gadfly can tell, the public has been comfortable with the rise in meter rates and would presumably be so with a rise in fines.
  • Which is not to say that those with budget oversight should ignore the situation.
  • Focus on line 31 “Parking violations — total” in both scenarios and focus on column 4 — 2021 — the probable first year of PSG operation.
  • In scenario 1, with a fine increase the revenue is $1,494,638.
  • In scenario 2, without a fine increase the revenue is $1,450,296.
  • The difference is $44,342.
  • Barely a blip in an estimated revenue budget that year of $7,396,635.
  • On p. 73 of the Desman Parking Study, we find that raising the fine structure would have an “Estimated Revenue Impact: $400,000 annually.”
  • How does that square with $44,342?

Let’s look at some BPA numbers (92)

(92nd in a series of posts on parking)

Parking issues are at our throats again.

Well, at the August 6 or August 20 City Council meeting probably.

Remember that July 2 the Bethlehem Parking Authority presented a draft proposal to build the Polk Street Garage with a private loan (no backing from the City) and seek approval to raise the parking violation schedule (meter rates went up January 1 but not the fine rates).

Remember that the PSG tab is estimated at $16.8m, with a similar figure  hovering right behind it for the Walnut Street Garage.

And BPA plans to return to Council with the final plans August 6 or August 20.

The private loan needs no approval from Council, but Council does have final sway on the parking fines.

Gadfly does not have a good feeling about the BPA and said so at the July 16 City Council meeting.

video min. 37:04

Now Gadfly, you know, is not a numbers man.

He’s a word man.

But you don’t get your Gadfly merit badge without demonstrating a bit of courage.

So the Gadfly is going to dip in to some numbers to see what he can see.

The BPA budget: 2019 BPA Budget FINAL

The 2018 Desman parking study: https://bethpark.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Bethlehem-Parking-Study-6.15.18-FINAL-REPORT.pdf

And, finally, the “pro forma” BPA presented July 2: BPA Presentation – 7-2-19 – City Council – DRAFT

Would you join me?

Gadfly always urges you to go to primary sources.

What do you see?