The Butte-Silver Bow Parking Commission, which just a year ago had unreliable software, corrupt data and still issued hand-written tickets, has increased collection rates and made other significant progress, its outgoing director said Wednesday.
Stephanie Marshall, who is taking a new job with the Montana Department of Transportation, also floated recommendations that the three-person, stand-alone department be folded within others in local government to improve efficencies and long-term planning.
She also told the parking board - and a few hours later the Council of Commissioners – that moving patrols for parked trailers on the street to the Community Enrichment Department and all other functions to Community Development were logical next steps to improving parking enforcement.
“We have had a big year, we have made a lot of positive change,” Marshall told her board members Wednesday afternoon. “We are set up to move forward.”
Chief Executive Matt Vincent and department leaders said Marshall brought the recommendations to them and they fully support them.
The parking board voted to “support the recommendations in principle” while reserving a final OK, and regardless, the Council of Commissioners would have to sign off on the plans, officials said.
“It is taking advantage of existing management and administrative resources we have,” Vincent said.
Marshall has only been on the job 11 months, and because of fiscal and other problems that had plagued the parking department for years, she was given a year to turn things around.
Vincent, as well as several other department leaders and commissioners, say she has done that. Her last full day is Friday.
She gave an annual report to the council Wednesday night that noted numerous problems and challenges when she began the job last February.
Software was outdated, data was corrupt, tickets were written out by hand, parking ordinances had not been updated since the 1980s, and collection of unpaid tickets was only about 37 percent.
The county bought new computer software and a system that uses hand-held devices to issue and process tickets, which were implemented this past June. Several Montana cities have used similar systems for years.
Collection rates increased from 37 percent in 2013 to 45 percent now, Marshall says, and she expects that figure to climb now that credit cards are accepted for payments and ordinances effective this week could send people with numerous unpaid tickets to court.
She said collection rates could reach 50 percent by the end of this fiscal year in June and climb even more the following year. The average rate nationally is 65 percent.
The department increased fines for 18 different violations this past June, which makes them comparable to surrounding Montana parking districts. The average ticket here went from $6 to $12.
But the department still faces numerous challenges, she said, including staff. The department consists only of Marshall and two enforcement officers, and their pay grades and duties – and constant negative feedback from the public – make turnover high.
The department only has a three-wheeled cart and a former coroner’s office van that is 20 years old to get around. It lost $17,000 in annual revenue when a special tax expired last year and lost another $13,000 in annual permit revenue when lots at Park and Main were given to NorthWestern Energy for its new Montana headquarters building.
Marshall recommended the parking district, which covers 64 square miles in Butte, be scaled back to only Uptown and neighborhoods next to Montana Tech.
She also suggested instead of hiring another director to replace her, the county hire a third enforcement officer. The officers could share administrative duties.
Community Enrichment Director Ed Randall said his department and its two code enforcement officers were ready to take on patrols for trailers parked illegally on the streets, a problem more prevalent on the Flat than Uptown.
Community Development Director Karen Byrnes said it made sense for her department to oversee other duties, since parking is an integral part of the Uptown economy and efforts to improve it.
Officials said they would not be taking powers away from the parking board – also called the parking commission – but it was not clear how their role would or would not change.