Atlanta could have to pay back $3.5 million to parking vendor

The city of Atlanta could reap far less in payouts from a parking-enforcement company if a ruling from an independent arbitrator holds up. Atlanta could have to pay back about $3.5 million and would see its cut of parking tickets and towing fees reduced each month after that.

The ruling is the latest turn in the dispute between Atlanta and ParkAtlanta, the company it hired to handle parking enforcement throughout the city.

City leaders, spurred by myriad complaints from residents about ParkAtlanta's tough tactics, put restrictions on the company's operations such as  no more enforcement on Sundays. But those changes to the terms of the deal led to disagreements about how much the company should have to pay the city.

The two sides ended up in arbitration before Charles M. Phillips of Midtown accounting firm Acuitas Inc. A copy of the four-page ruling, along with accounting tables, was obtained by Channel 2 Action News.

A representative of Mayor Kasim Reed called the cut in payouts "excessive" and said the city would pursue a more favorable outcome.

Sonji Jacobs Dade, a spokeswoman for Reed, said the city is continuing to negotiate with ParkAtlanta to reach a mutually acceptable financial adjustment. Meanwhile, the city's law department is also reviewing "all legal options" related to the decision and the contract, she said.

ParkAtlanta said it agreed with the independent arbitrator's decision on revenue adjustments, but would continue to work with the city to resolve the issue "fairly and amicably." The two sides are scheduled to discuss the matter the week of Nov. 28.

The decision to go to arbitration at all was unfortunate, said Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond. He said the city and ParkAtlanta seemed very close to a deal a year ago that would have reduced the city's take, but not as drastically as the arbitrator did.

"We had some really good talks," Bond said. "The ParkAtlanta people were very amenable to what we were talking about."

Milwaukee-based Duncan Solutions, which does business as ParkAtlanta, signed a seven-year contract to handle parking enforcement in Atlanta in late 2009. As part of the agreement with the city, Atlanta would receive $5.5 million or about $458,300 per month, with ParkAtlanta keeping the rest of the proceeds from tickets.

The contract included parking meter collections, right-of-way enforcement, parking citation processing, booting and towing. ParkAtlanta quickly installed scores of multi-space parking meter pay stations around the city.

But the proliferation of tickets and booting raised the wrath of residents and visitors, who were incensed at the strict enforcement of parking rules. The City Council voted in July 2010 to increase the time limits of metered parking in certain areas and to eliminate overnight parking restrictions in certain metered parking areas altogether.

But the controversy didn't end there. In early October 2010, ParkAtlanta issued refunds to drivers of 28 vehicles that were towed for illegal or improper parking from areas around the Georgia Dome. The parking signs in those areas were deemed inadequate.