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Audit finds fault with Metroplex

Audit finds fault with Metroplex

A state audit of the Metroplex Development Authority is critical of the authority’s downtown parking

A state audit of the Metroplex Development Authority is critical of the authority’s downtown parking operations and its record-keeping related to job creation.

The audit covers a period between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2007. It was completed in August 2008 and was leaked to local media Friday prior to its official release.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said the audit’s purpose is to help Metroplex officials manage operations efficiently and effectively and to provide accountability for tax dollars spent on projects.

The audit report said a combination of operating losses on parking operations and an increase in operating expenses meant Metroplex had $1 million less to use for economic development for the period covered.

Key findings were as follows:

Metroplex is solvent. Sales tax revenues, bond proceeds, restricted cash and other sources of funds were sufficient to finance current operations, economic development projects and long-term debt redemption. Its ability to accomplish its mission was enhanced by an increase in bonding authority approved by the state Legislature.

Parking lot operations exceeded revenues for every year reviewed.

Metroplex is not effectively monitoring performance to ensure that projects are meeting employment projections.

Metroplex could improve oversight of economic development projects, such as capping Metroplex expenses at a certain percentage.

Metroplex awarded contracts for professional services without a competitive process.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen disagreed with several of the findings, particularly with the one about parking. The comptroller is recommending that Metroplex eliminate free parking and increase parking fees to offset losses.

The comptroller said that for 2007, Metroplex reported expenses of $1.2 million and revenues of $506,000 for its parking operations. In 2006, the loss was $648,000. Since 2004, when Metroplex acquired the parking facilities, Metroplex’s operating losses have totaled $3.2 million.

Gillen said, “We reject the parking recommendations. They want us to turn a profit, and they don’t see it as an economic development project. We see it as an integral economic development project.”

Metroplex, which owns nine surface parking lots and the parking garage on Broadway, offers two free hours of parking and a maximum charge of $5. Gillen said the free parking and low rates are meant to entice people downtown.

“We can’t charge people coming downtown. That would really hurt our efforts,” he said.

Gillen said the comptroller’s criticism of the job creation reports is valid, but only in that Metroplex needs to do a better job of collecting the information.

“We had just finished updating all the job numbers with the county and city Industrial Development Agencies, and now we are updating that information for Metroplex. That is a valid criticism; we need to do a better job,” he said.

Metroplex is using an intern this summer to collect the data.

Gillen also said that many of Metroplex’s projects are designed to generate sales and property taxes, not necessarily to create jobs. He cited the Proctors project and the project to build the Bow Tie Cinema as falling into this category, which is called “bricks and mortar” projects. The cinema project, for example, was designed to bring people downtown more than anything else.

Gillen also rejected the comptroller’s criticism that Metroplex does not monitor projects and does not award contracts competitively. He said Metroplex provided board minutes and resolutions to debunk the comptroller’s finding.

“Bottom line, this was a fiscal audit, and the comptroller found that Metroplex is fiscally solvent,” Gillen said.

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