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Steep parking hikes draw fire

Parking rates have soared this year for employees, with Director of Parking and Transportation Services Cathy Reeve saying the increase will go toward funding ambitious future projects and restoring the department's depleted reserves.

"What we have been spending the last few months doing is trying to develop a long-range plan," Reeve said. "What we have decided to go ahead and do is develop a budget that will position us to deal with the needs over the next 15 years, so the cash will be available when we need it, and we won't have to go back for more big increases."

The price for an annual permit for all lots at the University and Medical Center, except those designated remote or ungated, will increase between 35 and 45 percent for fiscal year 2003-2004. The University and Medical Center parking systems merged July 1.

Executive Vice President Tallman Trask said the burden of the rate increases will be mitigated by a new "pretax" feature, which allows employees to deduct parking fees from their paychecks before taxes are calculated and will allow some employees to save money in terms of out-of-pocket cost, depending on the lot in which they park.

For example, a hypothetical head-of-household earning $30,000, who is paid on a biweekly basis and has three exemptions and standard deductions and no earned income credit, could end up saving as much as $20 on a pass for a University remote lot.

In reality, however, not all employees will benefit from the new pretax system, depending on their tax situation and parking lot. The same hypothetical employee would have to pay $13 extra for a Bryan Research permit, and others may have to pay even more for such premium lots.

Reeve acknowledged that the rate increase might seem substantial for some, but said it would be the last major hike for quite a while. "We know that it's a big jump for employees," she said. "The pretax does give an opportunity to offset that. What we anticipate from now on is if we need to have increases, it will be the smaller cost-of-living adjustments."

Some people, like information technology specialist Chris Daugherty, are nonetheless outraged that Parking and Transportation Services will reap most of the benefits of the new pretax arrangement.

"How the heck do you justify a nearly 40 percent increase in parking costs?" Daugherty wrote to Parking and Transportation Services in an e-mail that he said received no response. "And please don't point out the fact that you've made parking a pretax deduction. That doesn't give you any cause to bump up the prices 40 percent, unless your costs have gone up 40 percent, which I doubt."

Another source of disgruntlement is that for the first time, temporary employees will be asked to pay for parking.

"We temps [have] just been informed that as of June 30... we have to buy a parking pass like we are full-time employees [but] without the benefits of paid holidays, sick days or general medical [insurance]," Tony Smith, a temp in the Duke Mail Room, wrote in an e-mail. "If Duke was going to do this to the temps, then they should offer us some form of medical plan or vacation days to offset the fact they want us to kick out more money a year without benefits."

Reeve defended the billing of temps as a matter of equity.

"Anyone coming to campus has to pay to park, whether you're a visitor, a full-time employee or a temporary employee," she said. "You can't tell one group that they have to pay and another doesn't when they're getting the same level of service. I think that that is the equitable thing to do."

Staff members at Parking and Transportation Services have tried to answer employees' questions about the rate hikes and pretax feature by providing town-hall-style meetings, information on the parking website and a special pretax hotline that ran for three weeks in June and July.

"We're trying to say, 'Yes, we've got this big jump in the road, but we've learned our lesson; we're going to be better business managers,'" Reeve said.

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