West Lafayette Digital Parking Enforcement Back On Track After Vendor Files For Bankruptcy
The City of West Lafayette expects to roll out a new digital parking enforcement system in January, about eight months later than originally planned.
The project hit a roadblock earlier this year when the company that had been hired to provide the electronic monitoring system filed to liquidate its assets in federal bankruptcy court.
City leaders say there was no way to predict the company’s financial problems, and the bankruptcy case was compounded by the fact that the corporation was originally formed in Canada.
West Lafayette salvaged its investment and is working to replace its 20th Century system.
Code enforcement officer Jerry Burk deftly wields a chalk stick and marks the left rear tire of each parked vehicle…a manual time stamp of sorts.
If the chalk mark is still visible when he returns after the posted time limit has passed, Burk enters the license plate, date, time, location and type of violation into a handheld device that prints a ticket.
He slips it into a brightly colored envelope and places it on the vehicle window.
Aside from the electronic ticket printer, Burk, who served 20 years on the police force before moving to code enforcement, estimates the process hasn’t changed in more than 40 years.
“We always make sure that we’re never early on a route,” he says. “But people think we are, so it leaves room for argument. And their time on their timepiece may not be the same as ours.”
Safe to say few people were happier than Burk when the city in December 2014 signed a contract with Parktoria Technologies LLC and agreed to pay $122,000 for digital cameras and access to a license plate recognition computer system that photographs vehicles and records the license plate along with the date, time and GPS coordinates to mark the location.
“So it takes away any room for what people think is human error,” Burk says.
But human error almost scuttled the upgrade to 21st Century technology just as West Lafayette was scheduled to launch the new system.
Four digital cameras had been installed on a city Jeep, staff had begun loading street information into a computer database, and training was set for May.
Then on Friday, April 17, code enforcement supervisor Rick Walker says he learned Parktoria Technologies, which previously operated as Aparc Systems, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Delaware.
The city had just mailed a check for nearly $50,000 to Parktoria. Walker notified his boss, police Captain Gary Sparger, who urged the city clerk-treasurer to stop payment immediately.
The bankruptcy trustee and the city eventually settled for about half that amount.
Sparger says the city trusted Parktoria was financially solvent, in part because Lafayette also had a contract with the firm.
But neither city appeared to know that earlier in 2014, the company had both reorganized and sought outside investment to prop itself up.
Lafayette Controller Mike Jones says his city searched for a new vendor, and on May 6 signed a $20,000 agreement with an Indianapolis firm named T2 Systems.
He says most of Lafayette’s hardware was still usable, but the city had to purchase a few pieces of equipment that cost $4,700.
West Lafayette city attorney Eric Burns says the reorganization may have shielded some of Parktoria’s financial woes from the vetting process.
“Depending on which of the organizations we were dealing with, they can answer honestly for one corporation when in fact there’s another corporation out there that got reorganized,” Burns says.
Aparc’s demise was felt far from Tippecanoe County, as far away as Hawaii. Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward says her state had to find a replacement to manage parking and entrance fees at three state parks.
Back in West Lafayette, Walker found a replacement in NuPark, a company built on technology developed by staff at Texas Tech University.
“We were able to use the existing equipment without reinventing and re-starting this whole process and reinventing the wheel so it lent itself to more efficiency by using the same equipment,” he says.
NuPark CEO and Co-founder Kevin Uhlenhaker says West Lafayette is among a few Parktoria customers his company is helping to get back on track.
“It was really just a matter of taking all that work that had been done, figuring out what to do and how they wanted to do it, and then just showing them how to apply that back to our software,” Uhlenhaker says.
The license plate recognition system is slated for launch in January.
Code enforcement officer Jerry Burk is ready to get started with the new technology.
“It’s going to be a lot more effective,” he says. “A lot more efficient, and just a lot more effective.”
West Lafayette will pay NuPark a total of about $91,000 for equipment and software, according to the terms of a three year contract.
Add in the $27,000 for the cost of Parktoria’s equipment and Walker says the deal costs about $4,000 less than the original contract with Parktoria.