How the Garages are paid for (22)

(22nd in a series of posts on parking)

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past and current director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

Gadfly: I wholly agree with the sentiment of Vivien Steele’s post. I’m also a critic of the use of bonds to pay for expensive garages. But I want to make one point of clarification. I’m not sure it’s entirely correct to say the garages are paid for with our taxpayer money.

The way this city seems to be paying for garage construction (e.g. New Street Garage) is by approving taxpayer backed general obligation bonds. If the bonds are not repaid by the Bethlehem Parking Authority (BPA), then it’s my understanding that the city has to pay off the bonds, which it would presumably do by raising taxes on residents. This has happened in other cities, such as Scranton. The cost of the construction and upkeep of the garages is one of the stated reasons why the BPA is raising parking meter rates. The revenue from parking meter rates is needed to help pay off the debt from the bonds issued to cover garage costs. In this sense, residents/taxpayers are paying more for parking, if they use the meters. Everyone using the meters is helping to pay for the garages.

I would not have a problem with this if I believed the garages were genuinely good for small businesses. However, if the garages are being built primarily to serve other interests (institutions or developers), then I think those interests should pay for them. In the case of the New Street Garage, the claim was that the parking was needed and would help small businesses. Yet the parking study did not convincingly demonstrate this. If parking is only needed for the people who are in the office building attached to the New Street Garage by a glass walkway, the institutions that lease those offices should pay for the cost of building the garage. I don’t think the city should be issuing taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for parking for one or two institutions (Lehigh University and St. Luke’s) who already don’t pay taxes.


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