May 6, 2010
Lori Prichard reporting produced by Kelly Just
SALT LAKE CITY — KSL 5 News obtained copies of the state’s nine parking leases it has with various parking management companies across Utah. Six of those leases are for parking in downtown Salt Lake, one is located just outside of downtown Salt Lake, one in Brigham City and another in Richfield.
Add all nine up, and the state spends $369,760.32 annually for employees to park — and every penny is paid for by you, the taxpayer.
“Every single time we negotiate a lease, we always push for the best deal we can,” said John Nichols, real estate manager for Utah’s Division of Facilities Construction and Management.
Nichols signs off on all of the parking leases for state agencies and their employees; leases like one located beside the Heber Wells Complex for 250 stalls at $20 a month. That lease runs until 2026.
“Twenty dollars a month is actually an extremely low rate for a parking structure,” Nichols said, referring to the lease the state has with the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City.
If $20 a month is a good rate, then KSL wanted to know why the state is paying $80 a month for employees to park in a garage located at 111 East 300 South — a garage that is located essentially across the street from Heber Wells.
“Eighty dollars a stall is actually very good for downtown,” Nichols said.
The state leases 72 parking stalls for employees there, as well as another 7.5 stalls for validated parking. The total for the lease is $76,320 a year.
But that price doesn’t compare to the lot that sits next door. The property, located at 157 East 300 South, is owned by the state.
KSL wanted to know why employees who are parking in the garage don’t move across the street to free parking.
“They want covered parking, and they are willing to pay for it,” Nichols explained.
“But they aren’t paying for it. I’m paying for it,” KSL 5 News reporter Lori Prichard said about the free parking subsidies the state provides to its employees.
“Um, we’re all paying for it, including me,” Nichols responded.
“Taxpayers ought to be outraged,” said Royce Van Tassell, with the Utah Taxpayers Association, a tax watchdog group. “Everyone has to get to a job. Everyone has to park, and to ask taxpayers to foot that bill is completely inappropriate.”
Are parking spaces being used?
KSL found that’s not all taxpayers are footing.
A block away from the covered parking garage leased for $80 a stall is another lot that the state leases for $40 a stall. After checking day after day, KSL found the lot, located at 256 East 300 South, sits half empty.
“There are 113 stalls there,” Prichard told Nichols. “Sixty-two percent of them are empty.”
“Actually, they are empty, but they are not unused,” Nichols said.
Department of Commerce spokeswoman Jennifer Bolton confirmed that some of the department’s parking spaces are not being used due to attrition. According to Bolton, the department is no longer using 10 of its assigned stalls at that location.
“All 10 of those are scheduled to be actively used by July 1, 2010,” Bolton wrote in an e-mail.
KSL also checked with the Department of Workforce Services, which is assigned 40 stalls for that lot. Dave Lewis, director of communications for DWS, confirmed to us in an e-mail that the agency does not currently use any of those spaces being leased.
Employees for the Labor Commission also park in the lot. They have been assigned 18 stalls, but David Lamb, the director of administrative services for the agency, says only 12 are currently being used. According to state records, the lease for these parking spaces runs until December 2011.
KSL found another lot adjoining 3760 South Highland that sits empty at a cost, according to the state, of $64,812.60 a year.
“No one is parking there,” Prichard told Nichols.
“We don’t see it as wasted money because it enabled us to purchase the BYU Salt Lake Center,” Nichols explained.
Nichols went on to say that the state did have to assume the lease when it purchased the BYU Salt Lake Center, which is now home to a satellite campus for Salt Lake Community College and offices for the Department of Health.
“If this parking lot were run by the private sector whether it’s Ampco or Diamond, you can be certain if that lot wasn’t producing, they’d find something to do with it,” Van Tassell said.
The state has some time to decide what to do with the empty lot. According to state records, the Division of Facilities Construction and Management is locked into the lease until 2014.
“When the lease expires in 2014, you’re considering renewing it?” Prichard asked Nichols.
“Uh, only if we’re using it,” he replied.
“But, it’s not being used,” Prichard said.
“Not right now, no,” Nichols said.
After our interview, Nichols contacted KSL to clarify that the state would not be renewing that lease.
The private sector and parking
“This is really, I think, very disturbing to find that the state is essentially throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on parking spaces,” Van Tassell said.
KSL surveyed the six major private companies located downtown to ask whether they pay for employee parking. All six told us they either subsidize parking for employees or require employees to pay for parking outright. Not one paid for the entire cost for all employees to park downtown.
When we asked why the state doesn’t do the same, we were told that it is up to each agency to decide whether to make employees pay, and it’s just not something the state requires of its employees. In fact, the Department of Commerce told us it’s a policy they have had in place for more than a decade.