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Aldermen grill Rahm aides over parking-meter deal

Ald. Michelle Smith was among Chicago City Council members Friday who questioned proposed settlement with company thoversees Chicago parking meters.

Ald. Michelle Smith was among Chicago City Council members on Friday who questioned a proposed settlement with the company that oversees Chicago parking meters. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 26, 2013 6:13AM

Chicago aldermen grilled Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top aides Friday over whether a proposed settlement to end costly disputes with the operator of the city’s parking-meter system would give the company a windfall for decades to come.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Ald. Scott Waguespak (32nd) were among those who questioned whether meter-revenue projections that helped shape the Emanuel-brokered settlement are accurate.

They said the estimates appeared to be based on a small sampling of meters and, as a result, might underestimate how much money Chicago Parking Meters LLC would collect from a three-hour extension of parking hours that Emanuel agreed to, from 9 p.m. to midnight, in Reilly’s River North ward, as well as proposed one-hour extensions in other neighborhoods.

“Unfortunately, I think the administration is using the wrong set of assumptions to determine the future value of those extended hours,” Reilly said after questioning Lois Scott, the Emanuel administration’s chief financial officer, and top City Hall lawyer Steve Patton at a City Council finance committee hearing. “A lot more work needs to be done vetting these projections to understand what this asset will provide CPM.”

In selling the deal to aldermen and the public, Emanuel has trumpeted the meter company’s offer to provide free parking in most neighborhoods on Sundays. City officials say the company would surrender about $8.9 million a year in revenue by providing that free parking and make back only about $7.4 million from the extended meter hours.

Smith wasn’t buying the $7.4 million figure. “I think that’s underestimated by some degree, but I don’t know what that degree is,” said the alderman, whose ward includes Lincoln Park. “It means that the [parking] rate payers in Chicago are continuing to enrich Chicago Parking Meters even more than what they are already.”

Citing his colleagues’ concerns, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) asked the Emanuel aides if it would be worth trying to renegotiate the settlement to cap the amount the meter company could get from the extended hours — with the city keeping everything above that figure.

“I would implore you, don’t ask me to do that because I can’t guarantee the outcome,” Patton answered.

If he did ask, he said the meter company would probably then ask for changes to other parts of the deal.

Patton and Scott said the settlement Emanuel wants would eliminate more than $1 billion in potential future payments the meter company could demand from City Hall over the life of the 75-year meter-privatization deal, which Mayor Richard M. Daley pushed through the City Council in 2008. It also would see the city pay Chicago Parking Meters $63.8 million to settle disputes over how much the city has to reimburse it for times the city took meters out of service and for when drivers with disability-parking placards and license plates parked free at meters.

Emanuel is targeting a full City Council vote on the settlement next month. Twenty-four of the city’s 50 aldermen already have pledged to support it.

Another hearing on the deal is set for Tuesday.

Executives with Chicago Parking Meters weren’t at Friday’s hearing and aren’t expected to be at Tuesday’s, despite being invited to attend.

A lawyer representing the company sent Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), the finance committee chairman, a letter explaining “it would be inappropriate for any CPM representative to provide testimony” to aldermen because of the “pending litigation between CPM and the city of Chicago.”

Reilly said the company’s absence “speaks volumes.”

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