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CHICAGO - Chicago soon will have the most expensive downtown parking meters in North America.

On New Year's Day, meters in the city's downtown Loop area will begin charging $6.50 an hour, up from $5.75 - which was already the highest rate in the U.S, reports CBS Chicago station WBBM-TV.

The station cites TheExpiredMeter.com as saying $6.50 will be the highest rate in the continent.

The company that operates the meters, Chicago Parking Meters LLC, plans to have all machines set to new rates by the end of February.

Former Mayor Richard Daley got the City Council to approve the company's 75-year contract in 2008. In return, the city got a $1.1 billion payment, much of which has already been spent.

Current Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered an independent audit of the deal, which is now largely viewed as a financial disaster.

2013 will be the fifth straight year in which Chicago's rates rise, WBBM says.

While the 2013 price increase is the final automatic hike under the 75-year deal, prices could go up at the same rate of inflation in the future, WBBM notes.

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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