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Waste Watch: Building cost half a million dollars in rent for 12 employees

Updated: Wednesday, July 10 2013, 02:35 PM EDT

Rochester, N.Y. - It is a cost of working or visiting downtown.  

Hilda Singleton park her car in a paid lot three times a week.  

"The worst part is paying.  Paying for parking and getting tickets when you don't pay," she said.

At two parking lots on West Main Street, bordering Plymouth Avenue, it is not only drivers who pay to park.  

Monroe County taxpayers also pay.  Even those who never set foot downtown.

"I think that is crazy," said Singleton who immediately wanted more information about why.

Monroe County leases the lots at a cost of over $600,000 a year.  

The subcontractor who operates them does so at a loss of $410,000 a year.  It's a loss taxpayers have absorbed since 1994.  

"Every time the lease is renewed, the rent goes up ten percent," said Democratic County Legislator Paul Haney.  

Haney said, "no one has ever given me any expalanation why the county is renting this property every year."

Democrats said if taxpayers crunched the numbers, they'd likely want to borrow a line from former candidate for governor Jimmy McMillan who formed his political platform on one idea, "Rent is too damn high."

Take the Wegmans building just down the street from the parking lots at 80 West Main Street.  

Monroe County pays $490,000, nearly half a million dollars, for rent and utilities for this four story building.  A dozen county employees work there.  

"We've got 12 employees in there," said Haney.  "If they want to pay $500,000, I'll sublet them my apartment!"

Haney suggested the employees could be moved several doors down to City Place.  According to budget documents (general fund page 463), it is another building taxpayers subsidize for $1.6 million dollars.

A crew from 13WHAM News went inside City Place, but were not allowed past the security guard.  

The first floor atrium is spacious and nearly empty.  "Just security and maintenance on this floor," the guard explained.

"City Place is occupied, I believe at capacity," said Robert Franklin who is Monroe County's finance director.  

He could not provide specifics, but Franklin said the math on these two buildings is more complicated than most people think.

That's because agencies, including the Office of Mental Health, Probation, and the Catholic Family Center, all have offices in City Place, rent free.  

By subsidizing the rent, the county gets services they provide at a lower cost.  

"Those program dollars can now be used towards specific program costs rather than occupancy," said Franklin.  "The county is going to pay for that whether we pay the rent or we pay the contractor."

Franklin could not produce a cost-by-cost comparison, but he points out companies like Bausch and Lomb and Xerox are choosing to sell and lease back rather than own their buildings because it makes more financial sense.

And what about those parking lots?  

Franklin said there's a strategic reason for owning the lots and that is to control future development in the West side of downtown.  

Last year, lawmakers allowed the lease to automatically renew for another five years.  That obligates taxpayers to cover losses totaling $2 million.

"That is just being flushed down the drain every year," said Haney.  "It's just insane."

Waste Watch: Building cost half a million dollars in rent for 12 employees

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