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Parking meter company sends huge bill to Chicago taxpayers

Chicago's private parking meter company collected more than $80 millifrom city meters last year. The company is also demanding nearly

Chicago's private parking meter company collected more than $80 million from city meters last year. The company is also demanding nearly $50 million from Chicago taxpayers. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 23, 2012 2:26PM

The private company that runs Chicago’s parking meter system has sent City Hall another big bill, bringing the total amount of money it’s demanding from taxpayers to nearly $50 million.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported May 4 that Chicago Parking Meters LLC already had sent two parking-reimbursement bills to the city totaling more than $27 million. One was a $14 million tab for revenues the company says it lost when the city took meters out of service last year because of street closures. A second, for $13.5 million, seeks reimbursement for free parking the company says it provided to people displaying disabled-parking placards or license plates for the year ending Feb. 28, 2011.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration had been bracing for another hefty disabled-parking reimbursement bill through the end of February 2012. That third bill — for $22 million — arrived May 17, records show.

The mayor is refusing to pay all three bills, which total about $49.5 million. He’s also disputing how the company calculated them.

“I don’t agee with the back-up materials,” Emanuel said Thursday. “Given that, I’ve said ‘no.’

“We have real questions as it relates to the documentation that substantiates the claims they think we owe.”

Chicago Parking Meters has declined to respond to questions about the issue.

Using a formula outlined in the 521-page meter deal championed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago Parking Meters calculated that drivers who displayed disabled-parking placards and plates got $27 million worth of free parking for 2011-2012.

The formula calls for Chicago Parking Meters to absorb some of that cost, based on a percentage of its annual revenues, which topped $80 million last year. But, for the 2011-2012 period, the formula capped the level of free disability parking that the company had to provide at $5 million — with the city’s taxpayers left to pick up the $22 million difference.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Senate this week approved legislation that is expected to stop Chicago Parking Meters from seeking multimillion-dollar reimbursements for providing free parking to the disabled.

The Sun-Times last year observed dozens of able-bodied people using relatives’ placards, deceased people’s placards, fake placards and even stolen placards to cheat Chicago’s meter system. A subsequent Sun-Times report revealed that taxpayers are on the hook to reimburse the meter company for drivers who use disabled-parking placards or plates to park for free.

Illinois law has allowed handicapped motorists to park for free in metered zones for decades. The legislation, should Gov. Pat Quinn sign it, would change that in 2014.

It would set up a two-tiered disabled-parking placard system that would allow only wheelchair-bound and other severely disabled people to park for free in metered spots.

The deal that privatized Chicago’s meter system in 2008 has been widely criticized for selling taxpayers short. Under the plan, Chicago Parking Meters was given the right to keep all meter revenues until 2084 in exchange for a $1.15 billion upfront payment to the city. Drivers have since seen sharp increases in parking rates under the deal.

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