One of Cincinnati’s largest neighborhoods and business districts is adamantly against a proposed plan to lease the city’s parking systems.
A Dec. 7 letter to the mayor from Clifton Town Meeting President Peter Schneider calls the plan “baffling,” “short sighted” and “counter-intuitive.”
The city administration wants to lease all Cincinnati parking meters, garages and surface lots for 30 years in exchange for an upfront payment of at least $40 million and a share of the profits.
The city wants to use $21 million of the upfront payment to help close a $34 million hole in the upcoming budget.
Schneider writes that the proposal is bad for business, making it harder for customers to find cheap or free parking near retail areas like Clifton’s Ludlow Avenue corridor.
He also worried that a private operator would ratchet up the price for parking, making the facilities “unidirectional ATM’s (sic) benefiting a third party that provides minimal or no value to the citizens.”
Schneider also complains that Cincinnatians have not been given details of the deal or the opportunity to weigh in on it.
“It is unconscionable that the City administration would allow a similar plan (to the citizen-defeated red-light cameras) affecting parking meters and services be railroaded through City Hall without the appropriate sunshine and input of the populace,” he wrote.
He also compares the proposal to Hamilton County’s mishandling of the stadium deals, claiming that a similar long-term lease is unwise.
Schneider ends the letter by admitting that there are some aspects of outsourcing that could be beneficial, such as private management of surface lots or garages or maintenance, but the idea of privatizing everything goes too far.
There’s a catch — municipal employees only get the raises and job security if the city’s parking meters, garages and surface lots are leased to a private company for 30 years.
City Manager Milton Dohoney wants to lease the facilities for at least $40 million upfront and a share of parking profits for the next 30 years. He’d use $21 million of the upfront payment to patch a $34 million deficit in the city’s budget.
During recent budget hearings before City Council, Dohoney said extra revenue was needed to avoid the layoff of 344 city employees.
In a memo to the mayor and city council members, Dohoney outlined the agreement between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Any municipal employees who will lose their jobs because of the deal would be placed in other city jobs with no loss of wages. No city employees covered by the union would be laid off between 2013 and 2016. City employees will receive a 1.5 percent cost of living raise for the 2013-2014 contract year and another 1 percent raise for the next contract year. AFSCME members will continue city vehicle maintenance work from 2013-2016.
However, if City Council doesn’t approve of the plan to privatize parking, city employees get nothing.
Public employees in Cincinnati have not been given raises in almost four years. Meanwhile, council voted last month to give Dohoney a 10 percent raise and a $35,000 bonus. Dohoney had not received a merit raise since 2007, but had collected cost of living adjustments and bonuses over the years.
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With a vote set for tomorrow, it’s still unsure how the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will solve the stadium fund deficit, but it seems like both options require tax increases. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, proposed increasing the sales tax by 0.25 percent. Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, presented an alternative plan that reduces the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he also said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he wants to find a plan that doesn’t raise taxes.
Either parking services are privatized or 344 city employees are laid off. That’s how City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. framed budget talks to City Council yesterday. The city has already made drastic cuts since 2000, laying off 802 employees. Dohoney also pushed for repealing the property tax rollback promised as part of the stadium deal in 1996, but City Council does not want to raise taxes in the middle of a slow economy. The fact is any form of austerity will be painful, so City Council should be as cautious of spending cuts as tax hikes. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.
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It was the first opportunity council members had to publicly question the budget’s architects. The proposed budget would cover the first half of 2013. The city is switching over to a fiscal year starting in July.
Many council members expressed concern over the plan to use $21 million from a proposed 30-year lease of the city’s parking meters, garages and lots to help close a $34 million budget deficit.
“It seems like … the city budget wins, but the citizens are losing,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
City Manager Milton Dohoney said the parking facilities net Cincinnati about $7 million a year. That would equal out to about $210 million over 30 years.
Sittenfeld called into question the wisdom of leasing the facilities for an estimated $50 million and taking half of the profit, for an earnings of about $150 million over 30 years.
Other council members expressed concern that whoever leased the parking would hike rates, something Councilman Cecil Thomas dismissed.
“The market would dictate the rates that are charged,” he said.
Dohoney said a combination of cuts, savings, revenue, projected growth and one-time funding sources helped eliminate the $34 million deficit. He said a budget containing only cuts would result in the layoff of 344 city workers.
A slide show provided by the city showed that 802 positions had been cut since 2000.
Dohoney advocated eliminating the property tax rollback promised as part of the deal to build two new sports stadiums in 1996. He said it would bring in about $9 million a year. However council has had little appetite to allow any increase in taxes as the city recovers from the Great Recession. Property taxes make up about 6 percent of the budget fund used to pay most of the city's operating expenses.
The cuts proposed in the 2013 budget include eliminating
support for public access company Media Bridges, the Downtown and
Neighborhood Gateways Program, Juvenile Firesetter Program and Arts
It would also eliminate the Cincinnati Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, which covers downtown on horseback. Dohoney said that would allow Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to redeploy those nine officers elsewhere. Dohoney said Craig had asked for a new recruit class of 50, but Dohoney requested 30. He said the additional nine from the horse patrol would bring that closer to 40.
Dohoney said he was also allowing 10 additional recruits to cover patrols of University Hospital, which is no longer going to use University of Cincinnati police starting Jan. 1.
He said the police department would also look for ways to save money by increasing the involvement of civilian members who could do things like take reports of non-injury car accidents.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked if the budgeteers had considered restructuring the police force to save money. She has long been a proponent of “right-sizing” the police and fire forces, saying staffing levels remain at a high while the city’s population is shrinking.
The proposed budget also includes investments in business groups that promote economic development, like the Port Authority, Greater Cincinnati Partnership, Film Commission and African American Chamber of Commerce.
Councilman Chris Seelbach praised Dohoney and his budget team, saying he saw Cincinnati as being better off than it had been six years ago. But he also said he’d like to see the administration focus on people who are barely getting by instead of businesses and developers.
“There is a focus on helping people make more money that are already making a lot of money,” Seelbach said. “Helping people that aren’t paying a lot of taxes still pay very little.”
Cincinnatians can weigh in on the budget in a public hearing Thursday evening at 6 p.m.
The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority is making a move to buy up the city’s parking services. Cincinnati is pursuing parking privatization as a way of balancing the budget. If it accepts the Port Authority’s deal, the city will get $40 million upfront, and $21 million of that will be used to help plug the $34 million deficit in the 2013 budget. Port Authority also promised 50 percent of future profits. The Port Authority proposal is only one of nine Cincinnati’s government has received since it announced its plan. CityBeat criticized the city’s budget plan in this week’s commentary.
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners might raise the sales tax instead of doing away with the property tax rebate to stabilize the stadium fund. Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune suggested the idea, and Board President Greg Hartmann says it might be the only solution. Republican Chris Monzel is against it. Sales taxes are notoriously regressive, while the property tax rebate disproportionately favors the wealthy. Portune claims the 0.25-percent sales tax hike would be more spread out than a property tax rollback, essentially impacting low-income families less than the alternative. CityBeat previously covered the stadium fund and its problems here.
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It’s nearly budget season in Cincinnati again. In a bit of a head start, City Manager Milton Dohoney has unveiled his plan to look into privatizing the city’s parking services.In a memo to city employees, Dohoney claimed leasing could provide a few benefits to the city: “For example, a third party can invest in technology across the entire system more efficiently, can conduct enforcement and bill scofflaws, and can assume maintenance and facility upgrades to the system. ... Further, leasing the system could allow the City government to focus current staff on other services, and provide a pool of funding that could be paid immediately to support neighborhood investment among other priorities.”
Dohoney also wrote he had met with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) workers that would be affected by the change. He assured any new parking operator would have to interview AFSCME parking workers for jobs.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld responded to the proposal critically in a statement: “I’ll await more details, but it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to forgo a steady revenue stream for a lump-sum payment. Cincinnati needs a structurally balanced budget, and can’t keep relying on one-time sources. Places like Chicago and Indianapolis have seen their parking rates more than double following privatization — that’s a bad deal for citizens, and something we don’t need while were experiencing an urban renaissance.”
Some have cited the experience in Chicago as a failure of privatization. When New York City moved to privatize its parking meters, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone criticized New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his plan: “These deals involve a sitting executive selling off a valuable piece of city property at a steep discount to private financial interests (often, to friends or campaign contributors), in order to solve a current cash flow problem that, surprise, surprise, will still be there the year after you finish spending the proceeds of your sale.”
But New York City’s plan for privatized parking meters kept pricing in public
hands. It’s possible Cincinnati could take a similar approach and keep meter rates at the same level.
The full budget proposal typically comes out in late November. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council will have to approve the proposal.