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Mayor Rahm Emanuel restructures parking tax to flat rate

City Hall faces $200 milliarbitraticlaim by private investors who took over four city-owned parking garages downtown Chicag for allowing this

City Hall faces a $200 million arbitration claim by the private investors who took over four city-owned parking garages in downtown Chicag for allowing this competing parking garage to open at the Aqua building, 225 N. Columbus Dr. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 15, 2013 11:40AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first budget was balanced, in part, on a $2-a-weekday hike in parking taxes cleverly billed as a “congestion fee” even though it was confined neither to rush periods nor congested downtown and River North areas.

On Wednesday, the mayor restructured the parking tax in a way that will increase rates for some motorists and reduce rates for others.

Instead of imposing the tax on a sliding scale, depending on how long you park and how much you pay, the tax will be converted to a flat rate of 20 percent of the fee paid on weekdays and 18 percent on weekends.

The Emanuel administration said a change in state law opened the door to the overhaul and City Hall took advantage of it to make collections simpler for both the city and the parking industry.

The tiered taxing structure with varying dollar amounts for rate changes was complex and “difficult to apply” for both the city and the parking industry, officials said.

“The goal was to make the change revenue-neutral. While we don’t control parking rates in private garages and cannot predict changes in rates or driver behavior that may impact revenue, our goal was to keep it flat overall,” mayoral spokesperson Kathleen Strand said in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“In general, tax rates for motorists and tourists who choose cheaper or economy parking will likely go down and tax rates for more expensive or premium parking will increase, balancing each other out.”

For example, Strand said the tax rate that’s currently $5 on weekdays and $3 on weekends for a $12 parking tab will now be $2.40 and $2.16 respectively.

At O’Hare and Midway Airports, where the city does control parking rates, those who utilize economy parking will see a reduction in overall charges, she said.

Also at Wednesday’s City Council meeting:

­— City Clerk Susana Mendoza introduced an ordinance that would pave the way for Chicago vehicle stickers to be sold year-round to eliminate long lines and ease the strain on families with more than one car. The first major overhaul of city sticker sales in a century will begin next year after an exhaustive outreach campaign. Sticker sales will be tied to license plate renewal dates.

— Emanuel’s digital advertising overhaul at O’Hare and Midway Airports included a surprise bonus for JCDecaux, the French bus shelter operator that has a piece of the digital billboard deal adjacent to Chicago area expressways. The five-year contract would allow Decaux to install outdoor advertising at O’Hare — including “exterior wrapping and interior displays” on the soon to be upgraded and extended people mover system and at people mover stations — in exchange for 50 percent of advertising revenues.

— Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) called for City Council hearings on the future of Taste of Chicago, pointing to persistent losses even after the Taste was cut in half by Emanuel and bumped from its prime time around the July 4th holiday. “It’s been a losing proposition. We’re in tough economic times. Are we on the last legs? Is it time to abolish it? Is it time to re-configure what we’re doing?..This is definitely the end of Taste of Chicago unless they can prove otherwise,” Fioretti said. Emanuel said he’s determined to keep changing the event, but he’s not ready to give up on it.

— Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) introduced an ordinance that would require the parents of minors arrested for curfew violations three times in one year to get parental counseling.

— Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) called for City Council hearings on Redflex Traffic Systems, the red-light camera contractor embroiled in a bribery scandal. Emanuel has already announced plans to dump Redflex when its contract expires later this year. He has also barred the company from competing for a speed camera contract. But Burke said he wants hearings to determine whether city or Redflex employees may have violated federal, state or local laws.

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