The first two hours of Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting passed without much incident as each of the first 11 resolutions was approved unanimously.
And then it came time for the vote on an increased parking fee.
After about 20 minutes of discussion and a couple of surprises, the BOT voted to approve an increase on the Tampa campus.
The new fee will affect the price of parking decals this fall, raising the annual rate from $100 to $105 and the semester rate from $50 to $53. This increase comes on the heels of a decision to impose a parking access fee, which will also begin this fall. The fee will charge students $2 for every credit hour taken for access to parking services. Unlike the decal fees, students must pay the access fee in order to attend classes.
The increased revenue will be used to finance a $14.7-million dollar parking structure to be built in one of the parking lots adjacent to the Library.
The board’s vote was nearly unanimous, with the only negative vote coming from student body president and board member Mike Griffin. Griffin has openly disagreed with the resolution since its inception, stating that imposing the parking decal increase and the access fee on students in the same year is too much.
Griffin said after the vote that he was not disappointed with the result and was happy that he could make his opinion known.
“One thing about this board is that they’re very open and they’re very inclusive. We’re not always going to agree and that’s fine,” Griffin said. “I felt like I did everything I could.”
Griffin said he and his fellow board members agreed on the fact that USF needs a better parking system but disagreed about how to raise the money for improvements.
“It’s good to know the students are going to see these garages and are going to see an expanded shuttle route,” he said. “I just felt we could have gone about it a different way.”
Griffin was also the only board member to not approve of the resolution during the committee process, held about a month ago. During this period in which Griffin argued against the resolution, his nemesis seemed to be Greg Sylvester, director for Parking Services. Sylvester, who penned the proposal for the fee increase, said as late as Tuesday that he and Griffin simply disagreed on the numbers.
But as Sylvester presented his proposal on Friday, he had a surprise for the board.
“What we propose to do is eliminate that $5 dollar increase for next year,” Sylvester told the board. “We’ll have to make some last minute adjustments to the financial side. (But) this is very doable.”
According to Sylvester’s counterproposal, which resembles Griffin’s strategy, the lost revenue from allowing the decal fee to remain at its current price would be about $150,000. The new plan would also erase the old idea of raising fees in $5 increments during the next few years.
Sylvester proposed to make up that revenue in 2004 with a large decal price increase.
Sylvester told the board that he felt the plan would be effective.
“I am offering an option Trustee Griffin and I have discussed, and I think will work. In fact I am positive it will work,” Sylvester said. “It will just have some caveats to it that we’ll have to address further down the road.”
Sylvester said after the meeting that he decided on a compromise after the long disagreement with Griffin because of concern about some of the issues.
“We just didn’t want it to become a major issue that would become a stumbling block,” Sylvester said. “It was just something we came up with at the 11th hour.”
Sylvester said now that the original resolution has passed, he will continue to work with Griffin on compromises for the future.
“That increase will be there next year, but I think Mike and I will go back to the drawing board and reassess all of the issues,” he said.
Sylvester said with the BOT being less than a year old, this year’s discussions were, for him, a feeling-out process. He said he hopes in the future the process will be easier.
“Now that we’ve been through this process once, we’ll be better prepared to discuss the issue, negotiate, and make sure we’ll go into it next year with either something that’s agreed to by both parties up front or (we know) we have this difference,” he said.
During the discussion of Sylvester’s counter proposal, Trustee Lee Arnold, who led the committee on the parking increase, recommended that the board follow the original proposal. He said the $5 increase was nominal.
“It’s always important to everyone. But we’re looking at the bigger picture,” Arnold told the board. “I feel you should go with the numbers.”
Dick Beard, chairman of the BOT, told the board the debate was of concern.
“It disturbs me that Trustee Griffin felt misled,” Beard said. “My hope was we would find some kind of compromise.”
Following the comments of Beard and Arnold, Griffin presented a motion for the alternate plan that would have kept the current decal rate at $100. His motion was not seconded, and the board voted in the original proposal soon after.
Arnold told the board following the vote that he felt the decision was best in the long run but understood why students might be disappointed with the increase.
“I recognize and have empathy for the taxation and (indicating Griffin) you do have representation. I hear your passion,” Arnold said. “There is nothing that I found, other than athletics, that has more passion out there. This parking thing is a big deal.”Following the meeting Arnold said he was not surprised Sylvester had offered the alternative plan.
“I knew they’d been talking so I expected there’d be flexibility on the part of the presentation and I was willing to listen to it,” he said. “But I was making my comments based on experience and maintaining continuity in passing expenses through.”
Arnold said students will experience the benefits not only in the future parking structure, but in increased shuttle routes and other improvements, even though they may no longer be at USF by the time the new structure is built.
“We are talking about a nominal amount of money, and that’s what you really have to look at in perspective,” he said. “You could, throughout your entire life as a U.S. citizen, draw the conclusion that you may not live long enough to utilize (governmental) infrastructure. But that’s not how Americans think. They think in terms of their children, they think in terms of the future, they think in terms of what is the best interest of all. I think it’s in the best interest of all to pass $5 now and start dealing with infrastructure issues that have made it inconvenient for everyone for years.”