According to Shawnee State University spokesperson Elizabeth Blevins, on April 12 the SSU Board of Trustees approved a resolution that could allow the university to “update” its parking policy and begin charging both students and faculty for parking in SSU lots.
Portsmouth Ward 1 City Councilman Sean Dunne on Sunday told the Daily Times he is concerned SSU parking fees could lead to extra cars using Portsmouth municipal lots as students and possibly others attempt to avoid university parking costs.
Dunne promised to raise the issue at the regularly scheduled Portsmouth City Council meeting held yesterday evening. That meeting took place after the deadline for this issue.
An SSU sociology professor, Dunne said he is not necessarily opposed to the school charging for parking. He did wonder out loud if there was some way to study how much of an effect any SSU parking fees might have on what he called already overcrowded muni lots. Dunne specifically pointed to the Fourth Street municipal parking lot, which he asserted rarely has more than a few spots available. He said any additional cars coming from SSU might adversely affect businesses adjacent to the lot, such as Coffee at the Lofts, among others.
Dunne added because of his affiliation with SSU, he would not take part in any formal council vote on the overall issue.
“I really don’t think anybody from the city is going to support it,” Dunne said.
In an email, Blevins said SSU is studying maximum parking fees of $30 per semester or $60 per year. She described the school as being in the middle of the study to determine the feasibility of launching the program this fall, adding officials would consider feedback from students, staff and the community.
Should the program move forward, Blevins said it would include a fee for commuter students, faculty and staff. Residential students, she continued, are provided parking with their housing and would not be included in any parking permit program. What Blevins described as a visitor pass process would be part of the parking program so visitors would not need to pay for using SSU lots.
“We’re still working out the details of the program and examining if it’s feasible to implement at Shawnee State,” said Jeff Bauer, Interim SSU President. “We don’t anticipate that it would create a significant impact on municipal parking in the city, but we are working with city officials to examine any potential impact and address any concerns.”
Dunne said charging student commuters might not be a great idea, theorizing the absence of such fees is one of the attractions of attending SSU. He said the school has a high percentage of commuter students, contending that possibly up to 3,000 students might try to avoid fees by not parking on SSU property. Dunne added he first became aware of the possibility of parking fees at an SSU union meeting earlier this month.
During an interview with the Daily Times in October, Bauer didn’t hesitate to say SSU has lost students and revenue. He said in the 2011- 2012 school year, SSU had about 4,700 students. At the time of the October interview, Bauer put the number of SSU students at about 3,200.
“Especially this year, we had a major falloff in enrollment,” Bauer said.
As already hinted at, accompanying the drop in students, there also has been a drop in funding. Bauer said SSU’s overall budget tumbled from approximately $50 million a year to approximately $40 million a year. In responding to requests for comment on potential parking fees, Blevins did not specifically mention those fees as an attempt to raise revenue. Blevins did note SSU is the only public university in Ohio not charging for student parking. She added other universities use the fees generated from such programs to offset the cost of resurfacing, maintenance of lots and security.
Dunne said he had not personally heard from any business owners around Portsmouth worried about the parking issue, though he said he did not believe the news of SSU possibly charging for parking had spread very far as of early this week.
Coffee at the Lofts owner Terry Ockerman, whose business is within sight of SSU’s campus, did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.