The Camden Parking Authority, which donated $219,000 to the city in January despite predictions that the agency's expenses would outpace its revenue this year, could lose its most lucrative source of income by the fall.
NJ Transit is reviewing the qualifications of companies to take over operation of downtown Camden's Walter Rand Transportation Terminal garage and the transit agency's other parking facilities in the state.
The financially struggling Parking Authority, which has been without an executive director since Judy Fulton retired in December, has managed the 500-space garage since it opened in 1989. It receives more than $500,000 a year for the service - about 13 percent of its revenue and its largest single source of income.
"If we lose [the garage], we're looking at layoffs," said the authority's board chairman, Angel Alamo.
In an effort to improve commuter parking, NJ Transit is looking for a long-term agreement with a company that would operate as many as 80 facilities and collect revenue on at least 5,000 parking spaces. The agency expects to review proposals from companies this summer and award a contract in the fall.
Because the agreement would be to manage facilities as far away as Jersey City, the Camden Parking Authority has not submitted itself for consideration. The authority has encouraged NJ Transit to retain it at Walter Rand, Alamo said.
Since December, the Parking Authority has been hit with several waves of financial woes - snow-cleanup bills, pension payments, downtown construction that has blocked parking meters, and city and county layoffs that have reduced the number of commuters, authority officials said.
As of April 30, the agency had an operational loss of $165,000. That did not include its $219,092 donation to the city after mass police layoffs were announced. Nor did it include $280,908 the authority plans to pay the police for protection at its downtown lots and garages, which would come from its estimated $1.6 million surplus.
City Council and the state Department of Community Affairs have approved both payments, which were unprecedented for the agency.
Despite criticism from some authority employees and the possibility that the agency could lose its most valuable contract, Alamo stands behind the board's decision to give $500,000 to the city.
"It was a great idea," he said Thursday. "I live in Camden. . . . I've lost friends to the violence in the city."
Parking Authority officials have been speaking with the city about ways to bring in more revenue. They recently discussed getting back into the business of towing and booting vehicles. City Finance Director Glynn Jones asked the authority to put together a proposal, but he said he had yet to see anything.
"We have to figure out: Do we want to tackle this alone, or partner up" in providing those services? Alamo said.
In the meantime, he said, the agency may advertise for an executive director this week. He is waiting to review the job description with his fellow board members.
Without a chief, said agency operations director Lou Grossman, "we're all walking on eggshells here."