By Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current

The Missoula City Council unanimously approved a $48,000 budget amendment Monday night, allowing the Missoula Parking Commission to hire a consultant to help it select and purchase new gate arms for the city’s three existing parking garages and a fourth being built as part of a student housing project on East Front Street.

The money will come from parking commission funds, and will pay for both the consultant and the equipment itself, said Rod Austin, the commission’s director.

Council members did have a few questions before giving the expenditure their blessing, most about the source of the $48,000 and the need for an outside consultant to purchase a parking garage gate.

“We hire people to do study after study in Missoula, and I think we do it too much,” said Councilman Jon Wilkins.

Austin explained, however, that the gates controlling access to parking garages are no longer simple mechanical items – but are complex, high-tech pieces of equipment.

In addition, the gates now in place at three parking structures were made by a company that went out of business and there is no source of parts for needed repairs.

“So all our structures will need new equipment,” Austin said. “And we don’t have the expertise required to select the best possible supplier.”

The contractor will “analyze current facilities and prepare a Request for Proposals to upgrade the gating equipment at Central Park, Park Place and Caras Park,” he said. That same equipment will be used at the parking garage being built as part of the student housing project on Front.

The city of Missoula will eventually own that parking structure as well.

“Can you clarify the source of the funds?” asked Councilman Bryan von Lossberg. “It’s not from the city’s general fund, correct?”

That is correct, replied Austin. The funding will come entirely from the parking commission.

“I don’t believe we use any general fund money for any of our operations,” he said.

In the end, council members said they were putting their faith in Austin, approving his request.

“Our parking commission is managed in a real specific, business-like way, and I appreciate that about Rod,” said Councilman Jordan Hess.

“I think Rod Austin does a good job,” added Wilkins. “That’s why I’m voting for this request.”