Where does all the money go? A look at parking operations at WCU

On a yearly basis at WCU, students who have a hard time finding a parking spot at one time or another question where their money goes after purchasing a parking permit. For those unlucky to have received a parking fine, even more questions are pondered.

WCU Police Chief Earnie Hudson said where the money goes begins with the difference between fees and fines.

Fees are what students pay for permits and for wheel locks. Those fees pay for all of the parking services on campus, such the permits themselves, the officers to enforce parking, repainting, resurfacing, dispatchers, administration costs, cones, barricades, the parking staff who direct traffic on games days, special events and a few more things, according to Hudson. From the fees, the police department also tries to save some of the collected money for future parking needs, such as resurfacing and purchase of property to build more parking areas.

Fines are what students pay for parking violations, whether it be parking in an incorrect spot or not displaying a parking permit.

“The money collected from fines is transferred to the State of North Carolina,” Hudson said. “The State then redistributes them to local school districts, like the Jackson County Public School System. State law says these fines go to the local school district. The fact that fines do go to local school districts and not our actual campus has been argued for the past ten years, but no progress has been made.”

Asked about the common cry from students that not enough is being done about creating new parking areas on campus, Hudson said simply there are not enough funds.

“The average parking space on flat ground costs $4000.00 to build. A 300 space parking lot on flat ground costs about $1.2 million to build, not accounting the money to buy the land,” said Hudson. “Divide that by 30 years and again by the number of spaces and the cost just to pay for the build without interest is $133 per year, that is how we actually lose money.”

What about a parking garage on campus?

“A parking garage costs on average about $22,000 per space. So a 300 space parking garage can easily cost $6.6 million dollars. If you take that $6.6 million and divide it by 30 years, then divide it again by 300 spaces, you will get a rough idea of how much money must be generated each year just to pay the principle,” Hudson said. “It’s about $733 per year per space. There are only two ways to pay that: charge people who use the garage $733 each or spread it over all the permits.”

A $733 permit is a little over 10 times higher than the current $72 parking permit students pay annually.

According to WCU Parking Services, the university sells about 8,000 permits each year, taking in about $576,000. Subtracting from that amount the salaries of parking enforcement employees, gas, materials and other services, the fee money collected is diminished with services the fees are intended to provide, they said.

“The easy thing to say about parking is that we need more of it” said Hudson. “The difficult part is how do you pay for more spaces? A garage, more and more services for enforcement, special events, etc.? That is where it gets tougher. The easy answer is charge more for permits. The hard part to that is it can folks keep their education affordable. It’s a bigger issue than one might think.”