This story is courtesy of the Better Government Association:
Not only did state government pay more than $500,000 at Loop parking garages last year, some agencies paid higher rates than necessary.
With daily rates of more than $30 at many downtown Chicago garages, no one would blame commuters for driving around in circles searching for the lowest parking prices to save a few bucks.
And considering the depth of the state’s financial woes, Illinois taxpayers probably wouldn’t mind if state-government agencies would do the same. That’s because dozens of state agencies spent a combined total of nearly $573,000 to park about 340 vehicles at Loop parking garages in 2012, according to a Better Government Association/NBC 5 analysis.
But some state agencies could have saved taxpayers tens of thousands of those dollars by comparing rates and shopping around more vigorously, the BGA found. Some agencies paid rates about two and half times higher than others – even at the same garage.
The Illinois secretary of state’s office paid just under $44,000 last year to park 14 department vehicles at the InterPark garage at 203 N. La Salle – a rate of $260 per month per space. Under a master contract for 30 agencies and nearly 200 vehicles, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) paid much less – about $100 per month per space – at the same garage.
Dave Druker, spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White, said the office has been using that garage since at least 2007, when the rate was $250 per month per space.
Now that he’s aware of the price difference, Druker said his agency would contact CMS and other agencies to try and negotiate a better rate. "We’re very open . . . to see what’s the best deal for the state," Druker said.
Typically, groups can negotiate a lower rate for larger fleets. However, the state treasurer’s office also parks at 203 N. La Salle and brokered a $100 per month per space deal for its stock of just 14 vehicles. "Over the years, we’ve been negotiating lower and lower," said Maureen Lydon, a spokeswoman for Treasurer Dan Rutherford. Years ago, the rate was $180 per month per space, Lydon said.
Another agency now looking to find a better parking deal is the Illinois attorney general’s office, which spent more than any other single state agency in 2012 – $135,000. Most of that cost covered parking for nearly 50 vehicles at the InterPark garage at 177 N. Wells. That’s a rate of $230 per month per space.
"We were frustrated by the cost of the parking," said Ann Spillane, chief of staff for Attorney General Lisa Madigan. With the current contract expiring in June, Spillane said the office will consider garages that are farther away and reach out to CMS and other agencies to find lower rates.
In October 2011, the comptroller’s office joined the CMS master contract to cut costs. Previously, the agency paid $180 per month per space to park 13 vehicles, said Brad Hahn, spokesman for Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. "Using the CMS package, we were able to reduce the cost to $99 a spot, saving more than $1,000 a month for the same service."
State agencies can also save money by reducing their fleets of state-owned vehicles, such as the Illinois State Police, which cut its parking spaces from 41 to 23 between 2011 and 2012 due to retirements and personnel reassignments.
And state agencies can also trim parking costs by not providing parking spaces for the personal cars of employees who also have access to state-owned vehicles. At least two dozen state employees – mostly higher-ranking figures – are allowed to park personal vehicles on the state’s dime, while many other taxpayer-subsidized spaces are for "pool cars" and assigned vehicles that agencies insist are used for official business.
The Office of the Executive Inspector General – the in-house watchdog for state government – pays about $900 a year to park each of its seven state-owned vehicles. But it also pays for a space for Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza to park his personal car.
"The parking space is not for personal commuting purposes or used solely so that he may have a parking space in order to park his personal vehicle," said Chief of Staff Cole Kain, who stressed that Meza travels frequently for work to attend trainings, meetings, hearings on legislative matters, and to conduct interviews, among other duties.
However, the office pays for the parking space for Meza’s personal car regardless of whether it’s being used for state business. "Mr. Meza is authorized to use the parking space in order to park his personal vehicle while he uses one of the state-owned agency vehicles," Kain said in an email.
Last year, the BGA and NBC 5 reported that other local government agencies, primarily City of Chicago and Cook County agencies, spent close to $1 million in 2011 for more than 560 parking spaces in downtown parking garages.
At that time, city and county officials reported they were taking steps to reduce parking costs, whether by trimming the fleet or halting parking privileges for some employees.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Alden Loury, with NBC 5’s Katy Smyser and Dick Johnson. They can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9036.
Help the BGA shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable by becoming a member, contributor or tipster. Details at bettergov.org.