Philadelphia city controller targets parking authority expenses
The Philadelphia Parking Authority, already under state scrutiny for costing public schools nearly $78 million of revenues because of mismanagement, is now a focus of the city’s new fiscal watchdog.
Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said Wednesday that her staff will conduct a performance audit to compare the parking authority's on-street parking expenses to those in other cities. The examination will also explore the PPA’s progress in implementing recommendations for improving contracting, procurement, and employment policies made by State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in a late 2017 report.
“Over the last few years, aggressive ticketing practices, frustration over the amount of funding provided to the School District, and revelations about workplace culture problems – including sexual harassment and excessive pay and benefits – has left many Philadelphians distrustful of the Philadelphia Parking Authority,” said Rhynhart in a statement. “Our audit is looking at on-street parking expenses, specifically, because every dollar saved on the expense side is another dollar that would go to the School District.”
Rhynhart said on-street parking revenue from meters and fines is divided between the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia School District after operational expenses are paid. The City receives $35 million plus a yearly increase based on the percentage of revenue collected from the previous fiscal year. After that money is paid, net revenues are provided to the Philadelphia School District and that lower expenses for on-street parking management would result in more funding for the public schools.
The state auditor general’s office released an audit last December showing that the Philadelphia School District was denied about $77.9 million in revenue from 2012 to 2017 due to uncollected d parrs, questionable employee expenses and excessive salaries. Auditors found that the PPA failed to collect more than $580 million in outstanding parking tickets and associated fees dating back to 1990.
Rhynhart’s examination follows the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District's return to local control on July 1 after nearly 17 years of being run the state-dominated School Reform Commission. Pennsylvania’s largest school district lacks its own taxing authority and receives all of its funding from the state and city.
Moody's Investors Service affirmed the parking authority’s A1 credit rating in December 2016 for its $120 million of outstanding series 2008 and 2009 airport parking revenue refunding bonds. Fitch Ratings rates PPA bonds at A-minus.
Rhynhart said the assessment on the PPA’s on-street parking expenses will compare Philadelphia’s operation size, staffing levels, employee salaries and other costs with those of other cities. DePasquale said Wednesday during a joint press conference with Rhynhart that his office would be exploring the PPA’s policies with ridesharing companies and accommodating disabled riders.
“Auditing PPA was a huge undertaking and we helped get the agency started in a better direction,” DePasquale said in a statement. “I’m happy to support Controller Rhynhart’s ambitious initiative to dig even deeper so that we can make sure as much funding as possible goes toward improving local schools.”
DePasquale initially launched a year-long probe into the PPA in October 2016 following the resignation of executive director Vincent Fenerty, who faced sexual harassment allegations. A separate audit from DePasquale released in December cited the parking authority’s board for failing to oversee conduct of its former executive director while he mismanaged operations and engaged in sexual harassment. Though audits didn’t cite Fenerty by name, DePasquale referred to him as an “unchecked tyrant.”
PPA executive director Scott Petri said in response to the impending audit that the agency has implemented almost all of DePasquale’s recommendations. He added that the agency also underwent a a comprehensive internal financial and operational examination by the independent International Parking Institute.
“We look forward to working with the City Controller to continue making the PPA more efficient and customer-friendly,” Petri said in a statement. “The PPA is committed to providing the best customer service possible by employing best industry practices and the latest technological advances.”