As the city of Philadelphia struggles to improve its finances, City Councilman Darrell Clarke has come up with a new idea--selling the city's parking meters.

Clarke raised the possibility of selling or leasing the city's 14,500 meters at a recent budget hearing. The idea is to let a private firm operate the meters and collect the revenues, in return for big upfront payment to the city.

"The revenue that we get from the sale of the actual meters would allow us to infuse a significant amount of cash to pay down the debt service on some of the significant debt that we have within our government," Clarke said.

The city of Chicago did just that two years ago, netting a $1 billion for the city treasury and leaving citizens furious about higher rates, broken equipment and other problems.

Clarke said if Philadelphia pursues the idea, it can try to avoid the Windy City's mistakes.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority currently owns and operates the meters under and agreement with the city that expires in 2014.

Richard Dickson, the Parking Authority's senior director of strategic planning and administration, said it's important for the city to see its parking equipment not simply as revenue generators, but as tools to promote economic development.