Coalition Fights Parking Fee Hike

J.P. Goodwin

The UMass Boston parking garage and outdoor plaza are desperately in need of repair. Both sides in the escalating debate over who should pay for those repairs – which have been pegged at $32 million – agree on that point. But that’s about the only thing they agree on.

On one side is a coalition of staff and faculty unions and student groups, who have been showering the campus with “No parking-Fee Increase” signs. On the other side is the UMB administration, whose point person on the garage issue, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance David MacKenzie, says, “It’s critical to get the increase. We can’t survive without a viable garage.”

And in the middle is a twenty-seven year old parking garage (that supplies 1512 parking spaces), where “serious deterioration” was first documented in a 1989 Comprehensive Facilities Plan (CFP) by SSV&K Engineers and in an Inspection Report by the firm of ASEC Engineers. “The problem of leaking expansion joints must be dealt with immediately,” according to the twelve year old CFP study. Lacking the necessary funds to completely repair the garage, wooden posts and beams have been erected as a stop-gap measure in order “to ensure structural soundness,” states the University of Massachusetts Boston Proposal To Increase Parking Fees, a report issued last year by then Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Laverne Cawthorne (who left UMB for UMass Dartmouth this summer).

The report, designed to “provide background information and justification for this increase” details both the costs involved in a 5-year “Phased Repair Plan,” and the University’s plan for covering those costs, which include a proposed parking fee increase.

The current daily parking rate is $3.50. The proposal [originally scheduled to be implemented in July of 2001 [the beginning of Fiscal Year (FY) 2002, but now more likely to happen in January of 2002 according to MacKenzie] calls for a $6 daily rate in FY 2002, a $7 daily rate in FY 2003, $7.35 daily rate in FY 2004, $7.72 in FY 2005, $8.10 in FY 2006 and $8.51 in FY 2007. The current semester parking rate of $200, would jump to $400 next July and top out at $486 in FY 2007.

“The majority of staff feel that this is a really unfair, punitive or regressive tax. Many people have to drive here, they have to come here five days a week. It’s taking money out of their pockets,” declared Tom Goodkind, spokesperson for UMB Professional Staff union. “As employees, we don’t think we should have to pay for the mismanagement of the garage. It’s the Commonwealth who should bear the costs,” he added.

“My hope is that the administration will realize this is such an unpopular move, that they’ll find another way to come up with the money,” Goodkind explained.

Phase I of the garage repair project, which began this summer, is being funded with $1.4 million in state funds. According to MacKenzie, the University has requested $20 million in additional funds for the project. The remaining cost ($11.2 million) would be expended from funds “already borrowed for other projects” as well as an additional $8.6 million, which would be borrowed from the UMass Building Authority. The proposed parking increase would go towards producing a “revenue stream to support this borrowing, ” according to the proposal.

“The first place they look for the money is the students, staff and faculty,” declared Goodkind. He pointed out that the state has been aware of the garage problem for a number of years and should bear the responsibility for repair costs.

MacKenzie noted that UMB is already receiving significant funds from the state to fund projects such as the new Campus Center and the only realistic method of raising funds to pay for the repairs the garage (and the plaza) is to raise the parking fees. He added that $600,000 of the annual increase would go to pay for increased shuttle bus service necessitated by a new bus stop at the Campus Center.

Negotiations between the campus unions and the UMB administration are expected to begin soon. When the unions negotiated their most recent contracts, the issue of the fee increase was “left on the table.” An increase in the parking fee is considered a change in “working conditions” and therefore has to be negotiated with the unions.

A number of student groups are expected to join the coalition opposing the increase. Both the Student Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly will be appointing representatives to the coalition.

Ben Day, president of the Radical Student Alliance, who is playing an active role in opposing the fee hike, explained, “If students want to receive information about the parking issue or get involved, they should send a blank e-mail to: [email protected].

MacKenzie explained that if the unions and the administration are unable to reach an agreement by December 1, 2001, the University will implement their “last best offer” on January 1, 2002.

“That would be outrageous and we would oppose that,” declared Goodkind.

(The entire “University of Massachusetts Boston Proposal to Increase Parking Fees” will be published in next week’s edition.)