By David Skolnick
By David Skolnick
Over the complaints of some members that they were being rushed into a last-minute decision to increase the cost by 67 percent to shuttle employees at a downtown business by bus to and from the Covelli Centre parking lot, city council approved the deal.
The new $125,000 fee, an increase from $75,000 paid last year, will go to Community Bus Services to transport employees at VXI Global Solutions, a call center at the city-owned 20 Federal Place office building, to and from the center’s parking lot — a walk of about a quarter-mile.
Council approved the deal Wednesday 5-2 with the new deal taking effect 30 days later.
As part of a lease agreement with VXI, the city guarantees free parking for company workers.
While the contract doesn’t require transportation to and from the parking areas, the city has provided it since it had VXI workers park at the center, starting in November 2011, after a deal with the owner of the Plaza Parking Deck, which is closer to VXI, collapsed.
Community Bus Services raised its annual rate by $50,000 this year because it’s transporting more VXI workers, said Sean T. McKinney, the city’s buildings and grounds commissioner.
The company employed 500 at the downtown building in 2011 and increased that number to 900 last year, McKinney said. VXI is looking at another expansion of about 300 to 400 workers and is considering Youngstown among other Ohio cities for those jobs, he said.
Councilmen John R. Swierz, D-7th; Mike Ray, D-4th; and Paul Drennen, D-5th, had concerns about the increased fee as it was given to them less than three hours before Wednesday’s meeting, without explanation from the administration.
Swierz said he wasn’t “prepared to vote on this” Wednesday requesting the city take a couple of weeks to look for a better deal.
Ray called the $125,000 figure “substantial.”
“You’re putting us in a bad situation,” Drennen said to city administrators. “You could have come to us on Monday or a week ago.”
Other council members said they should have been told about negotiations on a new deal — the old one expired Dec. 31 — before Wednesday’s meeting.
Charles Shasho, deputy director of the city’s public works department to whom McKinney reports, took the blame for not telling council sooner.
McKinney said without council’s approval Wednesday, the risk exists that VXI could move out of its downtown location because the city would be in violation of the contract.
City Finance Director David Bozanich suggested council pay Community Bus Services the higher rate for 90 days while a search is done for other options.
Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, wanted the information earlier, but said she could support it because VXI employs a lot of city residents who, without a job there, would “be out busting heads” instead.
The issue was put to the floor for a vote. Only Swierz voted against suspending the rules of council to have it considered at Wednesday’s meeting. If another council member had joined Swierz, a Wednesday vote on the contract wouldn’t have had enough support.
Drennen changed his mind and supported the contract. Ray voted to suspend the rules of council and then voted against the deal.
That means the contract is approved and will go into effect 30 days after Wednesday.
McKinney said he’ll likely meet today with Community Bus Services officials to discuss the 30-day delay. The company was paid $6,250 last month under the expired deal that had it receive $75,000 annually.
“Hopefully they’ll be OK with this” 30-day delay, McKinney said.