Budget Crisis: Maybe Cincinnati City Council Should Sell City’s Naming Rights to the Bengals Owner, Too

I know, don’t give them any more ideas.  Years of troubled school finances and ineffective leadership have produced a decline in education which has finally caught up with the Queen City.   My hometown of Cincinnati must finally come to accept the official demise of its common sense, joining their cousins who also passed away in the national elections of 2008 and seven weeks ago.  Future Cincinnatians will determine the time of common sense’s death was when a majority of city council decided to sell most of the downtown parking areas to plug a Mike Brown-sized hole in next year’s budget.

First, a little background.  The seeds for economic woes were sown more than a decade ago when Hamilton County commisioners agreed to a stadium deal with the NFL Bengals about which The Wall Street Journal said, “the Bengals pact was unusually lopsided in favor of the team and risky for taxpayers—the result of strained negotiations between a local government and the professional sports team it was anxious to keep.” (WSJ should have said “eager,” but perhaps it was prophetic as the deal with the Bengals has meant nothing but anxiety for city financial planners.)

The city is facing its second great budget deficit in a row, thanks to state of Ohio budget cuts AND the deal which kept the essentially non-winning Bengals in town.  Not to worry, the same political machine which convinced enough naïve citizens to pass issues regarding:

1) casinos in the city (guaranteed, of course, to bring nothing but prosperity and civic pride, no drawbacks….)

2) wasting vital city funds for a senseless trolley system whose budget shortfalls are right on the schedule as we detractors predicted

3) changing the city charter to give these characters 4-year terms instead of 2-year terms

has another sell-off proposal which will exceed the short-sightedness of the sale of Drake Hospital to salvage this year’s budget.  That action was a bad deal from the start according to Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes who reviewed it. “It doesn’t make sense to give away a valuable asset for a bargain basement price and now they’re trying to pretend they’re getting something extra when they’re not,” Rhodes said.  The “something extra” he was referring to was to investments UC Health was going to make in the hospital and programs, but which weren’t guaranteed as the article noted that “a clause in the agreement says those things are subject to UC Health and Drake Center’s ability to pay.” 2  Nice job of  negotiating.

Now, a majority of city council members are reviewing which company will buy the rights to run a majority of parking spaces downtown.  This is just what a city in financial trouble should be doing – selling revenue generating assets for a one or two year help with a deficit.  Roxanne Qualls tried to allay fears by writing, “City Council can require city approval of any rate increase…  The request for proposals sets a rate increase ceiling as the greater of the increase in the Consumer Price Index or 4.5 percent annually.   Once the bid is awarded, the city can negotiate any conditions for operation to ensure customer service, fair rates, etc.” 3 For starters, this statement doesn’t mention jacked-up “event rates” and the like.  And, there’s this little problem of “can,” not “will,” in the explanation.  Sure, we trust you, and all who have the same mindset which promoted the unwise plans mentioned above (including the 2011 school issue whose ability to collect tax revenue had no ending date—it failed fortunately).

She also said that this was “a pragmatic means to further invest in Downtown and neighborhood development.” 3  But again, we’re trading a long-term revenue producer for a one-time shot in the arm!

As P. G. Sittenfeld countered the same day, “Under the proposal, the city will give up control of its garages, lots, and, most significantly, its parking meters to a private company, likely from outside Ohio.  This for-profit company would have the authority to set parking rates for the next three decades.  It would also have the ability to set the hours of parking enforcement…  The owner would be able to write parking tickets and put a ‘boot’ on cars until payment is received.  The company would even be able to determine whether any of us could contest a ticket.”  He later states what most of us should be thinking right now, “A perceived short-term fix can quickly turn into a long-term liability.” 4

Another article on this subject was printed last Thursday.  It described some of the proposals of bidders seeking to win the hand of Lady Largesse (my wording).  One memorable plan said it would try “to make getting a parking ticket a less negative experience.  It said it would hire ‘outgoing people with great personalities’ to serve as ‘ambassadors’ trained ‘to do more than issue citations’ and who would be ‘outfitted in colorful uniforms that create a more inviting presentation than the traditional dark uniforms.’” 5

It worked for Mike Brown and Barack Obama, so why not bamboozle middle America with the same shtick again?  Guess we’re in for more of “reading, ‘riting and ‘recking the city.”

1 – Reed Albergotti and Cameron McWhirter, The Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2011
2 – Sharon Coolidge, Cincinnati.com, posted March 12, 2012 10:23 PM
3 – Roxanne Qualls, “Local Expert” column, Cincinnati Enquirer, December 6, 2012
4 – P. G. Sittenfeld, Ibid.
5 – Barry Horstman and Jane Prendergast, Cincinnati Enquirer, December 13, 2012

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