From Newhaven.Gov

New Haven Traffic declines to release revenue records, Tastie Fish to file FOIA request

From Newhaven.gov

The New Haven Traffic, Transportation, and Parking division again declined to release the full amount of revenue the city of New Haven has collected in fines and moving violations over the last 4 years.

Initially Tastie Fish reporters attempted to produce an official statement on the status of the contract negotiations between the city and the traffic workers of New Haven, but the story changed when Traffic and Transportation stated they were not authorized to respond to our specific request.

Sources had indicated to this magazine that the workers are currently underpaid, and working without the security of a contract.

There is also concern within the traffic worker base that the city cannot afford to pay them what they are worth according to sources.

There is fear, and anxiety within the traffic workers, even anger.

Over the course of the investigation into the labor negotiations between the city, and the traffic employees, Tastie Fish inquired about accessing the revenue records from New Haven traffic meters in 2016.

The purpose of this request was to ascertain the basic balance sheet of the traffic division, which is a thriving business in New Haven.

The meter workers are hard working, the traffic division is super vigilant about enforcing parking in the city, so the total amount of money has become a priority in the Tastie Fish newsroom.

Traffic and Transportation Deputy Director Michael Pinto initially refused to comment on both the status of the negotiations, or the actual revenue figures.

From Newhaven.Gov

After being pressed through a second email by Tastie Fish, in which this magazine communicated that revenue records from a government agency are a matter of public information, and worthy of a Foia request, Mr. Pinto, in an email, referred Tastie Fish reporters to the city attorney  Kathleen Foster to file an official Foia request.

Mr. Pinto also referred Tastie Fish to the city government website that tracks revenues and expenditures, but the Tastie Fish newsroom was unable to extract the specific numbers that our initial request was seeking.

After an initial scan of the numbers presented in the city budget, Tastie Fish was left with more questions than answers, and have continued to investigate the exact amount of money that has been collected from the New Haven public over the years.

We learned some interesting things.

According to a New Haven Register report in 2015, city hall commissioned a private contractor in Wisconsin that goes by the name of Duncan Solutions to produce and manage the traffic meters in New Haven.

They made this decision after Duncan won the bid to secure the contract in 2011.

The exact terms of the agreement have not been made available to Tastie Fish, but at the time traffic director Doug Hausladen told the Register that if the city collects at least $5,082,643 in fines over a calendar year, a 10% fee is accessed by Duncan.

If the city collects less than $5,082,643, 6% of the revenue is diverted to Duncan Solutions.

Pretty sweet deal for Duncan Solutions

Tastie Fish has not been able to determine exactly how much money New Haven paid Duncan solutions at the onset of the initial contract, but will request that information in our filing.

New Haven’s position at the time was that such a revenue split “minimizes the risk to the city”.

Duncan is a private company not even located in Connecticut, but under the terms of the last contract,  they collected  roughly $300,000 in public money from New Haven citizens annually at the very least if the city failed to hit the contractual milestone, and that money is predicated upon meter workers walking x amount of miles a day, and braving the elements.

Duncan’s contract with New Haven was also sweetened by a stipulation concerning delinquent offenders

From the New Haven Register

Duncan’s incentive to pursue unpaid tickets is bolstered by an agreement in which the city pays the company 15 percent of the amount of every delinquent ticket collected. The contract also means Duncan receives 100 percent of the $2.95 “convenience fee” charged when drivers pay off ticket debt online.

Duncan Solutions employs a collections service within the company called Auto Collect, the report by the Register stated at the time that “the company lists a 24-hour phone service for those wishing to settle their fines. The AutoCOLLECT brochure states that the company will mail out at least three standard notices, including return envelopes.

Among collection tools, it lists “bankruptcy handling, tax refund intercept, credit bureau, registration suspension, booting and towing,” along with “license suspensions, warrants, predictive dialer, outbound calling, dialing campaigns and automated messaging.”

Duncan has similar contracts all over the country, the agreements are big business for the company, and the collections aspect provide even more of a windfall.

The agreement was a 5 year contract, and it came up for renewal last year.

Tastie Fish is curious about the terms of the renewal if one was reached, and will request both the renewal, and the previous contract within out FOIA request.

From Newhaven.Gov

The remaining revenue not withheld by Duncan Solutions is then directed to the cities general fund, we have attached tables to indicate how the general fund is dispersed.

We found it interesting that Doug Hausladen told the Register that the Traffic Division collects an average of ‘roughly 5.5 million a year” because that testimony is somewhat contradicted by the budget document, and the projected revenue records located with in it.

Both the actual money collected, and the projected revenue are not in line with $5.5 million dollars a year.

In the year 2014-2015, according to the budget, New Haven Traffic wrote 141,603 tickets, and collected $4,813,019 in fines.

According to the terms of the previous contract, 6% of that revenue was allocated to Duncan Solutions, that total was roughly $288,781.14 although Tastie Fish will be unable to confirm that until the records are released.

Because the Traffic Division has thus far refused to release the revenue records on their books going back the last 4 years, it’s impossible to determine what the actual average is, but the city would have had to collect at least $6 million in fines before or after the year 2014-2015 for the director’s estimation to pass the smell test, and based on the projections, that’s unlikely.

We also learned that the expected revenue from New Haven Traffic is substantial, it hovers right around or over the contractual milestone the city had with Duncan Solutions although without the actual agreement that cannot be totally confirmed.

From Newhaven.gov

In the year 2013-2014, the expected revenue was $5,756,520, in 2014-2015 the expected revenue was $6,118,684, and this past year, the expected revenue stands at $6,100,000.

The latter figure is a very rough estimate because the annual figures have not been finalized for this past year according to the budget.

Our readers should be advised that this is only the projected revenue, because Tastie Fish has not been given access to the actual books kept at the Traffic Division, the expected revenue and the actual revenue over those years cannot be wholly confirmed.

Tastie Fish is also pursuing the revenue records prior to the contract with Duncan, the city agreed to pay a large amount of public money to a private contractor over the course of years, such an agreement should be justified by an uptick in revenue, a fact that can confirmed by comparing the revenue before and after the agreement was executed.

Inflation should also be factored into the comparison.

If a contract renewal was reached with Duncan Solutions, there should be revenue increases on the city books, such a contract should not be detrimental the city, and 5 years is long enough to determine that.

The projected payroll raises eyebrows, as well as the total operational expenses if you consider rough revenue estimates Tastie Fish was presented with.

From Newhaven.gov

In 2013-2014, the total payroll for Traffic was $2,040,445, operational expenses that year in total were $2,478,045

In 2014-2015, the total payroll was $2,086,365, total operational expenses were $2,518,965.

In 2015-2016, payroll was $2,136,120, and operational expenses rose again to $2,568,720.

The proposed budget this year is amplified, the proposal states that traffic is to receive $2,472,810 for payroll, and $5,669,110 in operational expenses, both figures represent a dramatic increase, which could be playing into the labor negotiations reported by this magazine earlier this week.

The numbers are not adding up in some areas however, the city makes more than enough money off the meters alone to fund the entire traffic division according to payroll/operational expenses tables, and while 94% of that money was directed(if they fail to hit their milestone) to the cities general fund, because the traffic division is entered into a revenue agreement with a private contractor, and because that revenue was based upon the physical labor of city workers, it would make much more sense to divert a portion of the revenue back into the traffic division so the workers can be paid properly.

From City Data

It’s the workers after all that are collecting that money, if Duncan is receiving perks, and bonuses, so should the employees.

Sources indicated to Tastie Fish Saturday afternoon that the division of Transportation and Parking won’t be in a rush to turn over their actual books, or the revenue agreement that Duncan and the Traffic division were party too.

Without that contract, or the official books, none of these numbers can confirmed.

Tastie Fish also finds the budget to be vague in certain areas as it pertains to our specific questions.

Both problems can be solved simultaneously with the immediate release of the actual records kept by Traffic, not the sub pages within the city budget.

Because of this, Tastie Fish has drafted an official Foia request that will be filed Monday morning with city attorney Kathleen Foster, which will hopefully lead to the release of all the relevant financial information we require to inform the public.

Tastie Fish is considering involving other news organizations in the effort, and has gotten some feelers about our efforts prior to making the decision to file.

Tastie Fish has attempted to reach Kathleen Foster for comment, but a voicemail left in her mailbox was not immediately returned.

More on this story as it develops.

Tastie Fish opted not to publish the email request directed to Deputy Director Michael Pinto at the behest of the editor.

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