Downtown parking in Joliet has been modernized slowly since the two city parking decks were built in 1979.
It’s still a cash-only system at the parking decks, where 50 cents an hour covers the cost of parking and attendants appreciate it if you have exact change.
Elsewhere downtown, pay stations taking credit cards or coins have replaced coin-operated parking meters on many streets, and commuter lots have been updated as the city’s Gateway Center train station replaced the old Union Station.
But the parking decks still operate much like they did when they opened, although the structures have deteriorated since then.
That is supposed to change if the City Council approves a $3 million bond issue proposed for the 2020 budget.
But Mayor Bob O’Dekirk last week asked the council’s Finance Committee to take a closer look at the bond proposal, criticizing interim City Manager Steve Jones for not bringing to the council a developer’s proposal to buy at least part of one of the decks.
“We should consider whether we want to sell them or not,” O’Dekirk said.
The city a few years ago took a look at privatizing the entire parking system downtown, but opted to keep it.
Jones recommends against selling a portion of the system, arguing that the city would lose control of its assets and see revenue decline for the rest of the system.
The council in November approved increases in downtown parking rates that Jones said was needed to maintain “20th-century parking with upgrades.”
But even those higher rates will not erase the $300,000 deficit Jones said now exists in the city’s parking fund.
The about $5 million parking fund will have about a $73,000 deficit next year, according to the proposed budget.
The downtown parking system includes the two parking decks, seven parking lots, 412 on-street meters, 19 on-street pay stations and 700 on-street parking spaces.
“This is an enterprise fund that has to fund itself, and it’s got to be user funded,” council member Larry Hug said last week before voting for the increases. “I hate to raise any taxes or any fees. But this is headed for a disaster if we don’t pass this.”
The $3 million bond issue is an estimate, Jones said, based on expectations that costs have gone up since five years ago when the city got a
$2 million estimate for needed repairs in the decks.
Before those bonds are issued, he said, a consulting engineer would be hired to determine the extent of repairs needed and provide a current estimate on costs.