February 14, 2012

Privatization of Parking Meter Collecting was Worthwhile Change for Saint Louis

Saint Louis Alderman Fred Wessels has filed a lawsuit regarding Saint Louis City Treasurer Larry Williams’ privatization of the city’s parking meter operations. One may certainly wonder if this lawsuit is political? Mr. Williams made the change to privatize the parking meter collections three years ago and the lawsuit was just filed now, two months before the two men (and several others) face off in an election for the city treasurer position.

There are some public services that should never be privatized, some that should always be privatized, and some that depend on certain factors. Parking enforcement is in the “always” category. Contracting out the enforcement of parking meters is something that the private sector can easily do, and should do. There is no reason parking enforcement jobs should be on the public dime, with the benefits, pensions, etc., that are included in government jobs. Mr. Williams deserves a great deal of credit for making this change and reducing the political imprint of his office to save taxpayer dollars. If Alderman Wessels was really so offended by the manner in which the privatization occurred, I think he should have contested the move long ago.

The Reason Foundation has done some excellent work on all types of parking privatization. To be clear, Mr. Williams has not gone nearly as far with this privatization effort as Chicago did – where the entire city street parking operations were contracted out. All Williams did was contract out the collection of money from meters – the city still controls the rates, meter placement, etc. I do not support privatization law enforcement functions, but meter enforcement is hardly that. I view meter collection as a support service to law enforcement, like the mechanics who work on the police cars or the clerks who manage the department documents. You do not need a police officer to do it, and you do not need a government employee to do it.

Now, if Mr. Wessels wants something to legitimately criticize Mr. Williams for, how about the dearth of readily available data on the city treasurer’s office? This post would have been a longer and more detailed defense of the city treasurer’s privatization effort if I had easy access to the budget data from the office. (This is a blog post, not a policy study, so I do not have the time to gather data which should be up on the city website.) The city’s budget division only has very cursory information available on the treasurer’s office and the parking meter fund. So, whomever among the five candidates for the office wins in April, I hope they improve the available information for the office.

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