JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - It's no secret Jackson's parking meters don't make what they used to, now bringing in hundreds of thousands less than they did 15 years ago.
Now a former public works employee shows some of the inner workings of the city's parking meter division, exposing what he thinks are serious flaws that further cripple Jackson's ability to make money.
Johnny Stiff knows a thing or two about working on the city's 1,022 parking meters.
After all, he served as the division's maintenance supervisor for 17 years. He was terminated from the city for excessive absenteeism.
"You would go to your supervisor and say, 'Well we need this.' 'Well, we gotta look into the budget to see.' Well, I can wait, but the parking meters out on the street and these folks trying to use them can't wait," said Stiff.
Making repairs proved problematic, though.
Stiff said he and others had to use an unheated, unvented and crowded room to make repairs on meters.
On top of that, he said the money set aside for those repairs shrunk significantly, from $9,000 to around $1,200 more recently, dropping so much that they could barely afford to send a few off for major fixes.
"Just piecing together. I'm Frankensteining parts, man, just to make this one parking meter work," said Stiff. "When you don't have anything to work with or work on, what can you do?"
Budget documents from the city seems to dispute Stiff's claim.
Over the last five budget years, more than $5,400 on average was spent on "other repair and maintenance materials," but the documents don't elaborate past that.
That money also doesn't explain what a 3 On Your Side investigation revealed last month: of the 321 meters we checked in downtown Jackson, 71 didn't work.
Official numbers from the city contradict that as well.
Public Works said it counted only 63 that needed maintenance citywide, which is less than we counted, even though we only went through a third of the city's total meters.
Stiff said the information provided to 3 On Your Side by the city would have to be compiled by hand.
The audit software the division used to track maintenance and revenue for years crashed in 2001, and while Stiff said the city purchased new software, he claims it has never been installed.
Even the repair process itself is slower, he says.
Public Works hasn't hired anybody for his old job, instead making the person collecting the revenue responsible for fixing the meters as well.
"You don't have any competent personnel doing the job, you're not putting any kind of revenue back into the system as to where it affects repairs, training personnel, things like that," said Stiff. So this is the result. This is what you're going to get."
That revenue drop, Stiff said, serves as the biggest indicator something is wrong.
In 2000, Stiff said Public Works made as much as $600,000 in revenue off parking meters, but those numbers have since taken a nose dive.
A 3 On Your Side analysis reveals over the last ten years, parking meter revenue never even got above $200,000.
Why the drop?
Stiff cites special deals with organizations for parking downtown as one reason.
This 2012 memo obtained by 3 On Your Side shows a deal with the Mississippi House of Representatives to get 75 meters for 93 days at $2.50 a pop, half of the rate set by the city.
That agreement alone cut Jackson out of an additional $17,000.
Stiff said management also took his work truck away, the vehicle he used to haul meter-repairing equipment all over downtown Jackson, making the job harder.
When Stiff tried to bring these issues up, he said nobody wanted to listen.
"You're my boss and I say, 'Well, we've got this problem and revenue's dipped because of this," and I keep harping on you the same thing over and over and over, and know nothing's being done. I'm giving you the information, but you're not doing anything with it, pushing it up the chain," Stiff said.
Stiff wonders if that's part of a larger issue within Jackson's Public Works Department: the inability to even accept problems exist in the first place.
Now as the conversation shifts toward privatizing parking services to turn more of a profit, Stiff offers a different alternative.
"The best thing you can do for this program right now is to scrap it and start from scratch and hope you can catch up, because fixing it now is a lost cause," added Stiff.
We reached out to the city of Jackson to answer some of those concerns, but are still waiting for a response.