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by German Lopez 03.04.2013
Posted In: Privatization, News, Parking, Budget, Economy at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Parking Meter Company's Past Problems Resurface

Before Xerox buyout, audit found ACS improperly managed parking meters

The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.

A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C. The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the 72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.

For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.

The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4 percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public management.

The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington, D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s parking meters today.

The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996 and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or denying the charges.

All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.

Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.

CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal, which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction and economic development, in detail. Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to pass a possible City Council vote today.

On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S, an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit.

Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.04.2013
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council may vote on parking today, GOP criticizes Kasich's budget, casino's grand opening

City Council may vote today on the controversial plan to lease the city’s parking assets to fund economic development and temporarily balance the deficit. On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach put forward Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenues, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent. Previously, City Manager Milton Dohoney unveiled Plan B to the parking plan, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years. The parking plan was unanimously approved by the Cincinnati Planning Commission Friday, and it appears five council members are ready to give the plan the go-ahead.

Members of Gov. John Kasich’s own party are beginning to show skepticism toward the governor’s budget proposal, which would expand the sales tax to apply to more services, increase the oil and gas severance tax and make more Ohioans eligible for Medicaid — mostly at the cost of the federal government. Republicans are likely to propose alternatives before a mid-April vote. In a Quinnipiac University poll, a majority of Ohioans approved of the Medicaid expansion but not Kasich’s tax plan. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget plan in detail here.

Police are taking measures to prevent traffic problems at the Horseshoe Casino’s grand opening tonight. Meanwhile, Indiana casinos are preparing for downturns as the Horseshoe Casino promises a major alternative to tri-state gamblers. During the soft opening last week, Ohio’s casino regulator found the Horseshoe Casino would have to fix its security and surveillance before the grand opening. Previous studies found casinos bring job growth at the cost of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide, and a Dayton Daily News report also found the state’s casinos are falling short of job projections.

On Friday, the sequester, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts, kicked in, and it could mean big funding reductions for Ohio’s schools. The blunt cuts are largely because Republicans refuse to negotiate with President Barack Obama and Democrats — to the point that Republicans don’t even know what the president is proposing.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio is asking the state’s Department of Education to expand its seclusion room rules to apply to charter schools. Previous reports found seclusion rooms, which were originally intended to hold out-of-control kids until they calm down, have been largely used for convenience by educators, leading to stricter policies from the Ohio Department of Education. But the regulations currently apply only to traditional public schools, not charter schools.

Reminder: On top of putting everyone around you in danger, texting while driving will now result in a fine up to $150.

The Cincinnati Zoo has confirmed it has terrible taste in names with its choice for the new four-week-old gorilla: Gladys Stones. Still, the zoo does have that whole environmentally friendly thing going on. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons.

U.S. researchers are claiming they have “functionally cured” an HIV-infected infant after extensive treatments left the virus’s presence in blood at such low levels that it can no longer be detected by standard clinical tests.

Scientists are ostracizing what Popular Science calls the “world’s sexiest octopus.”

If you can watch BigDog, the four-legged robot, toss cinder blocks with ease and not fear the robot apocalypse, you’re not prepared.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 03.01.2013
 
 
news_chris_seelbach

Seelbach Announces "Plan S" Budget Alternative

Third proposal would include ballot amendments, $5 million in spending cuts

City Councilmember Chris Seelbach this afternoon released a third alternative to City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.'s budget plans, both of which have received negative feedback from the public.

Like Dohoney's "Plan B" (read about that here), Plan S would not lease the city's parking system to a private operator, a solution that citizens and officials are concerned would cause parking rates to skyrocket and ultimately not serve as a sustainable solution to the city's budget problems.

Instead, Plan S would involve redirecting $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the city's $25 million deficit, $5 million in spending cuts based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.

Plan S is Seelbach's alternative to Dohoney's Plan B, which also does not privatize parking. Under Plan B, the city would be forced to lay off 344 public employees, including 80 firefighters and 189 police positions, and close three community centers and six pools.

Instead, the $5 million in spending cuts would include reductions to city administrative services, council and the mayor’s office, some recreation and health programs and consolidation of some police and fire services. It would also freeze 20 vacant city positions and reduce car allowances for city employees. Seelbach says he determined who would suffer these cuts by exploring city services citizens valued least during last fall's Priority-Driven Budget Initiative.

If council were to approve pursuing Seelbach's Plan S, there's a possibility it could send the city back to the drawing board, should voters choose not to approve the proposed charter amendments.

"To me it seems like the public is overwhelmingly against parking, but we still have to balance our budget. ... I'm providing the public an alternative. If [the charter amendments are] something the voters would reject, I respect that and then we’d have to go back to the table and either do the leasing of parking or layoff 300 police and fire officers," Seelbach says.

The parking plan is expected to be voted on during the Budget and Finance Committee's meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday, March 4.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.27.2013
 
 
downtown grocery

City Manager Lists Alternatives to Parking Plan

Plan B would lay off 344 city employees, eliminate Human Services Funding

If City Council does not agree to lease Cincinnati’s parking system, the city manager’s office says the city will be forced to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, but critics argue there are better alternatives.

In a memo dated to Feb. 26, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. wrote that the city will also have to close three community centers and six pools; eliminate Human Services Funding, which aids the city’s homeless and poor; and reduce funding for local business groups, parks, nature education for Cincinnati Public Schools and environmental regulations, among other changes. In total, the cuts would add up to $25.8 million — just enough to balance the deficit that would be left in place without the parking plan.

In addition to the cuts, failing to approve the parking plan, which leases the city’s parking meters for 30 years and lots and garages for 50 years to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, would displace plans to convert Tower Place Mall, construct a 30-floor tower with a grocery store downtown, accelerate the the I-71/MLK Interchange project, acquire the Wasson Line right-of-way for a bike trail and add $4 million to the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).

Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor, has come out in favor of the parking plan, but John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, says he opposes the deal because it will hurt downtown businesses.

“It’s the boy who cried wolf,” Cranley says. “In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened.”

Cranley says he would rather take $10 million from projected casino revenue and $7 million from current parking revenues to help clear the deficit. For the remaining $8.8 million, he would cut non-essential programs, which would exclude police, fire, garbage collection, health, parks and recreation, street pavement and Human Services Funding, across the board by 10 to 15 percent. If that wasn’t enough, he would then move to the essential programs, which he says make up about $300 million in the $368.9 million budget, with a 1-percent across-the-board cut.

He says his solution would have the upside of fixing structural deficit problems in Cincinnati’s General Fund, whereas the one-time lease of the city’s parking assets will only take care of the deficit for the next two years.

Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says City Council could use the casino revenue to pay for the deficit, but $4 million of it is already set for the Focus 52 program, which funds neighborhood development projects.

“Council can use whatever revenue sources they want,” Olberding says. “That’s why the memo … says we can either use this plan or another plan.”

Cranley says he would not do away with the Focus 52 program, but he would instead find funding for it in the Capital Budget, which is separate from the General Fund.

Olberding says City Council could approve the use of about $3 million in parking meter revenue for the General Fund, but the rest of the parking money, which comes from lots and garages, is tied to an enterprise fund, which, by state law, means the city would have to sell its parking lots and garages before it could obtain money for the General Fund.

Cranley, who also opposes the streetcar project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23), says it would be possible to pay for the I-71/MLK Interchange and other projects if the streetcar wasn’t taking up funds. If it was up to him, he says he would remove streetcar funding and use it on other development projects “without batting an eye.”

In the Feb. 27 City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said the Budget and Finance Committee will likely vote on the city manager’s parking plan on March 4 or March 11.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.26.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Economy, Privatization, Parking, Health at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
milton dohoney

Morning News and Stuff

City releases parking documents, parking plan gets hearing, restroom could cost $35,000

Following CityBeat’s blog post yesterday, the city released the official documents for the city manager’s parking plan. So far, no one has reported anything outrageous or unexpected. If you see anything, feel free to email glopez@citybeat.com.

Of the two dozen people who spoke at a public hearing for the parking plan yesterday, all but two opposed the plan. Much of the opposition came from people who said they were worried parking will be expensive, but the city manager’s office says it will take three years for parking rates to go up in Downtown and six years for rates to go up in neighborhoods after an initial hike to 75 cents. CityBeat covered the parking plan in detail here.

Cincinnati officials are now saying that a freestanding restroom could cost as low as $35,000. Officials say the public restroom is needed to accommodate growing activity and population in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown. Some critics were initially worried that the facility would cost $100,000.

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino will partner up with the Cincinnati Police Department to keep out cheats and prevent theft. The casino will also have advanced surveillance equipment, allowing them to detect anyone around the casino before they even get into the building. It may seem like a lot, but casinos do tend to attract cheaters and other troublemakers, according to Ohio Casino Control Commission Director of Enforcement Karen Huey. The Horseshoe Casino is set to open March 4.

A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association found more teen drivers died in crashes this year than the last two, and some officials fear wireless devices may be a leading cause. In Ohio, the six-month grace period for the teen wireless ban expires Friday, which will allow police officers to issue tickets instead of warnings to teenagers using any wireless devices while driving.

Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal would cut back a state-funded college internship program, which awarded $11 million to universities around the state.

Ohio Democrats are asking Kasich to put his Ohio Turnpike funding promises in writing after they found out the governor’s budget proposal doesn’t actually say that 90 percent of leveraged funds will remain in northern Ohio, which Kasich originally promised.

Barry Horstman, investigative reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer, collapsed and died in the newsroom yesterday. CityBeat offers its condolences to Horstman’s co-workers, family and friends.

The University of Cincinnati got a $2.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to train cancer researchers. “Our emphasis is on training the next generation of cancer researchers to translate basic science discoveries into improved patient care,” Susan Waltz, co-principal investigator of the grant and professor of cancer biology at the UC College of Medicine, said in a statement.

A homemade jetpack can reach altitudes up to 25,000 feet, but it might have some trouble landing.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.25.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Privatization, Parking at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

No Parking Documents Before Public Hearing

City says official details, contracts will be ready before City Council vote

City Hall will host public hearings about the city manager’s parking and economic development plan today, but the hearings will take place before the public knows all the official details. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the legal documents and contracts for the deal aren’t ready to be released yet, but they will be ready before City Council holds a vote.

“We’re still finalizing the documents,” Olberding says. “These are long, complicated documents, so we want to make sure they’re done right, and we’ll put them online as soon as they’re available.”

When the documents are released, they will include Cincinnati’s deal with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, but they will not divulge specifics on the Port Authority’s contracts with AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim — the four private companies partnering with the Port Authority to manage city’s parking assets.

Without the full details, mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan, says he’s concerned the public is going into the deal blind: “Why are they having public hearings before giving the contract to the public and giving us the exact details? What they do is sit back and selectively give information.”

The lack of details has already led to some surprises since the parking proposal was announced to the public. On Feb. 21, Olberding told CityBeat the city will be able to bypass the so-called cap on parking meter rate increases through unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower the cap in case of changing economic needs, says Olberding.

Under the initial plan, parking meter rates will be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a compounded basis, with any increases coming in 25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for Downtown and every six years for neighborhoods, says Olberding.

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his parking proposal on Feb. 19, promising $92 million upfront and an additional $3 million a year to pay off the city’s budget deficits for 2014 and 2015, build a 30-story high-rise Downtown with a grocery store and 300 luxury apartments, renovate Tower Place Mall and complete the I-71/MLK Interchange project (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20).

 
 
by German Lopez 02.20.2013
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Morning News and Stuff

Kasich gives State of the State, Dohoney's parking plan, county rejects bridge tolls

Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State speech yesterday. Kasich focused on his budget proposal and jobs, and he urged lawmakers to take up the Medicaid expansion. Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer has a thorough report on the speech here. CityBeat gave an in-depth look at Kasich’s budget in this week’s cover story here.

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. proposed an ambitious parking and economic development plan yesterday. The 30-year plan, which Dohoney called a “public-public partnership,” will lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to fund more than $100 million in projects around the city, including the I-71/MLK Interchange, Tower Place Mall and a high-rise that will house a downtown grocery store. As part of the deal, the city will retain control over parking rates, operation hours and the placement of meters.

The Kenton County Fiscal Court unanimously voted against tolls to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge project, reports WVXU. County residents are concerned the tolls will be a financial drain for commuters and travelers, but finding other sources of funding for the project has been an ongoing struggle.

An Ohio woman claims she was fired after voting for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, reports Dayton Daily News. Patricia Kunkle’s lawsuit claims her former employer, Roberta “Bobbie” Gentile of Q-Mark Inc., threatened to fire workers if Obama won election and that Obama supporters would be first on the list.

John Cranley, former Democratic council member, will formally launch his mayoral campaign today. The kick-off will be at 20th Century Theater in Oakley at 5:30 p.m. Cranley’s main opponent will most likely be Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a fellow Democrat. The two Democrats have split on one issue: the streetcar. Qualls supports it, while Cranley is against it. CityBeat covered the streetcar and how it relates to the mayor’s race here.

The University of Cincinnati is conducting research for how to locate food deserts, reports the Business Courier. Professor Michael Widener is looking at where people live and work, with a focus on how many people are able to stop by a grocery store after a workday.

Failing to yield caused 37,475 crashes in 2012, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Altogether, the crashes killed 187 people and injured 23,353. Young drivers, aged 16 to 25, were at fault for 30 percent of the crashes — nearly twice as high as those aged 26 to 35, who caused 16 percent of accidents. The full county-by-county report is available here.

UC will spend $2 million on design work for Nippert Stadium, reports WLWT. UC hopes the work will attract an Atlantic Coast Conference invitation.

Popular Science has a demonstration of scientists teaching language to a childlike robot.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.19.2013
Posted In: Parking, News, Privatization, Government, City Council at 06:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
milton dohoney

City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan

Dohoney touts “public-public partnership”

In a presentation to City Council Feb. 19, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled an unexpected parking proposal that will solve a $25.8 million budget deficit for the 2014 fiscal year and avoid full privatization. The 30-year plan will also put more than $100 million toward economic development in the city.

The plan involves teaming up with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and some private operators to manage and modernize Cincinnati’s parking assets. Dohoney called it a “public-public partnership” that will allow Cincinnati to keep control over rates, operation hours and the placement of meters.

The money raised by the plan will be used for multiple development projects around the city, including the I-71/MLK Interchange, Tower Place Mall and a high-rise that will house a downtown grocery store.

The new parking plan will cap rate increases at 3 percent or the cost of living, with any increases coming in 25-cent increments. Private operators will not be allowed to change operation hours, but hours will be initially expanded to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. downtown and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in neighborhoods.

The proposal will not immediately increase downtown’s $2-an-hour rates, but it will increase all neighborhood parking meters to 75 cents an hour. Afterward, the rate cap will make it so downtown rates can only be increased every four years and neighborhood rates can only be increased every 10 to 11 years.

But the rate hikes will only come after technological improvements are made to parking meters. The new meters will allow users to pay with a smartphone, which will enable remote payment without walking back to the meter. After the plan’s 30 years are up, parking assets will be returned to the city with all the new technological upgrades, according to Dohoney.

Some critics were originally concerned that private operators will aggressively enforce parking rules to run bigger profits, but Dohoney said enforcement standards will remain the same.

Enforcement will be done through booting instead of towing, according to the plan. Booting will only be used after the accumulation of three unpaid parking tickets, which is similar to how towing works today. The boots will be automatically removed once the tickets are paid, which will be possible to do remotely through a smartphone.

The plan, which is a tax-exempt bond deal, will provide the city with $92 million upfront cash and $3 million in annual installments after that, although the city manager said the yearly payments will increase over time. The city originally promised $7 million a year from the deal, but Dohoney said estimates had to be brought down as more standards and limitations were attached to address expressed concerns.

The money will first be used to pay for a $25.8 million deficit in the 2014 fiscal year. Another $6.3 million will be set aside for the working cap reserve and $20.9 million will be put in a reserve to pay for a projected deficit in the 2015 fiscal year.

The rest of the funds will be used for economic development. About $20 million will go to the I-71/MLK Interchange, which would match $40 million from the state. The project is estimated to create $750 million in economic impact, with $460 million of that impact in Hamilton County. Dohoney says the economic impact will create 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, and ultimately bring in $33 million in earnings taxes, which means the plan will eventually pay for itself. He also says the funding from the parking deal will allow the city and state to complete the project within two to three years, instead of the seven to 10 years it would take if the city waited for support from the federal government.

If the state does not agree to take up the I-71/MLK Interchange project, Dohoney promised a “mega job deal” that will create 2,500 jobs.

With $12 million for development and $82 million in leveraged funds, the city will also take on massive development projects downtown. Tower Place Mall will undergo a massive conversion. The city will also tear down Pogue’s Garage at Fourth and Race streets and replace it with a 30-floor high-rise that will include 300 luxury apartments, 1,000 parking spaces and a grocery store.

The plan will also use $3 million for the Wasson Line right-of-way and $4 million for the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park, which should be completed in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim will partner with the city and Port Authority for the plan. AEW will manage assets, Xerox will handle parking operations and on-street spaces, Denison will operate off-street spaces and manage facilities and equipment and Guggenheim will act as underwriter and capital provider.

After the City Council hearing, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld released a statement that raised concerns about expanded meter operation hours, which Sittenfeld fears could burden certain neighborhoods. He also pointed out the plan will not fix Cincinnati’s long-term structural deficit problems. Still, he said the local Port Authority’s management could make the plan “worthy of support.” 

Sittenfeld has been skeptical of the parking plan since it was first announced in October. In the past, he warned privatization could cause parking rates to skyrocket. ©

 
 

 

 

 
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