Matt Christensen

Matt Christensen

Imagine running a business where customers decided how much they pay, if they pay at all. The business does little to track how much money comes in but loses $1,500 month after month. And year after year, it takes out big loans to cover cash flow problems that never get addressed.

This company wouldn’t be in business very long.

Yet this is exactly what’s going on with public money at the Butte-Silver Bow Parking Commission, which sets parking policy for the county, issues tickets and collects fines – poorly.

Where parking commissions in other cities generate revenue, ours is more than $100,000 in the red.

And everyone is pointing fingers.

Commission members say they’ve asked for help from other BSB departments to no avail. Earlier this month, Chief Executive Matt Vincent said the commission has been in “some level of dysfunction” for some time and called it “a mess.”

That’s an understatement, and the cleanup is a long time coming.

Instead of playing the blame game, Vincent and other leaders are finally looking for solutions. Vincent wants a new parking czar, has called for an audit and is giving the commission one year to turn things around.

Regardless of who is at fault, the buck stops in the chief executive’s office. If these problems can’t be fixed quickly, Vincent should work to dissolve the commission and come up with a new system for managing parking in Butte.

A consistent parking policy has never been more critical, especially to Uptown. A new NorthWestern Energy headquarters, a planned parking garage and other proposed development projects Uptown require sound parking rules and steady enforcement for their success.

But more important, the government must make immediate changes to ensure public trust.

Problems like those in the parking commission only reaffirm a public perception that the city is run by a network of Good Old Boys, where you can wiggle out of paying a fine if you shoot pool with the guy at the ticket counter.

“I think we are going to do our due diligence in determining how we got to where we are,” Vincent said, “but we are more interested in figuring out what we can do better to move forward.”

The county should start by following the advice of Budget Director Jeff Amerman, which apparently fell on deaf ears when he made these suggestions more than a year ago: Increase parking lot fees, increase fines (which are so low now they have little effect as a deterrent), issue more tickets and waive fewer fines.

And hire a new director with strong management skills who can work with other officials to fix problems before they become fiascos.

The problems are clear. Now, Butte-Silver Bow taxpayers demand solutions.

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