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Audit faults oversight of city garages


A $4.4 million dollar drop in parking garage revenue last year has sparked accusations that Baltimore gave away too many free spaces to city workers, paid private garage managers double their fees and failed to account for some expenditures.

The accusations, outlined in a city Office of the Comptroller audit submitted to the Board of Estimates yesterday, have prompted an overhaul of City Hall policies in the city's seven parking garages.

Auditors also are urging the city to seek reimbursement of the overbilling.

Officials say they have not referred the matter to the state's attorney for possible legal action.

George G. Balog, the director of the Baltimore Department of Public Works, yesterday disputed the $4.4 million figure, saying it was adversely affected by closing of the Camden Street lot for Convention Center expansion.

To help make up the loss, city workers and private garage managers are being asked to change.

Most of the "extensive" number of city workers given free spaces in the garages will see them vanish.

Nearly 150 city employees who park in the Lexington Street garage have been moved to city-owned surface lots four to six blocks away.

Now, whole city departments will get a small block of spaces for staff, says Dave Montgomery, who heads the city's parking division.

Mr. Montgomery has notified garage managers to get ready for new contracts, which he says will be stricter and enforced better.

The audit included charges that the city squandered money and did not enforce the contracts it has with managers of its garages.

The seven facilities are on Lexington Street, Water Street and Franklin Street, and at the Marriott, Harbor Park, the Arena and Market Center.

Some of the findings reveal:

* Managers of the garages were reimbursed a total of $34,388 for expenses by the parking division that the city was unable to explain, the audit showed.

* The Water Street garage manager claimed $10,956 in daily administrative costs and $125 for snow removal. The city paid the claims, but the audit charges that the claims should have been covered by the fee the city pays the manager.

* Several garage operators were reimbursed a total of about $4,000 for elevator repairs. But, the audit reports, "the operating agreement clearly states that elevator maintenance and repair are part of the management fee."

* The city paid the operators $24,921 for capital expenditures, security equipment and signs, though none of the operators got permission first, as required by their contracts.

* About $10,000 the city reimbursed to operators was not eligible for reimbursement.

Neither the report nor Mr. Balog revealed how much money the city lost from each garage last year by giving free spaces to city workers instead of renting those spaces to paying customers. Monthly parking fees are about $85.

He said the lost revenue is offset by that from other city parking operations.

When parking garages losses are combined with revenue from parking meters, violation tickets and surface parking, city parking revenue dropped from about $20 million in 1993 to about $16 million last year.

Mr. Balog is expected to present a plan to the Board of Estimates, outlining how to make the garages profitable.

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