Mass. audit flags concern over transportation agency parking practices

Massachusetts State House. PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Eimon/Flickr
Massachusetts State House. PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Eimon/Flickr

The state’s parking practices at two downtown Boston locations are pocked with problems, including unjustified parking assignments, high costs associated with underutilized spaces, and alleged non-compliance with federal tax laws.

According to a new audit from a state unit created as a check on the transportation bureaucracy, the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) lack a formal parking benefit policy or approval process, with parking perks distributed in a possibly discriminatory manner.

“We’re looking at the report. I think there’s certainly some things we can change. I think there are a few others I’m not quite sure make sense,” Transportation Secretary Richard Davey told the News Service Tuesday. He said, “Overall it’s always good to have outside eyes looking at what we’re doing so we can improve.”

Investigators found that MassDOT lacks a written policy regarding parking assignments at the City Place Garage, located in the lower levels of the State Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza in Boston, resulting in parking benefits not being assigned based on seniority or grade level and spots allotted to employees running the range from administrative assistants to those working at upper levels of Patrick administration secretariats.

“Since not all employees at a given level are provided with this benefit, lack of a formal policy and/or process for parking benefit distribution presents a reputational risk and potential liability to MassDOT, as employees could view parking assignment as discriminatory,” according to the report from Inspector General Glenn Cunha’s Internal Special Audit Unit, which launched its review in response to a referral from senior management at MassDOT.

The garage is owned by the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, and operated by Pilgrim Parking. Under its lease, MassDOT has 135 spaces and the MBTA has 55 spaces in the garage. The report estimates the cost of the spaces at $293,280 annually but notes DCAMM charges MassDOT less than 50 percent of the market rate for public parking at the garage and the agency waived MBTA rent and parking fees at the garage during fiscal 2013 and so far during fiscal 2014, which is nearing its midway point.

The report’s authors recommend that state transportation officials replace underutilized parking passes with single-use vouchers, eliminate parking privileges for non-employees, eliminate parking passes for MassDOT vehicles not used daily for official state business, revisit the list of employees with parking privileges to justify assignments, and consider criteria for complimentary parking to avoid any appearance of waste and abuse.

MassDOT’s payroll, human resources and legal teams are reviewing the report, an official said.

Other findings:

– Investigators found 19 City Place parking passes costing MassDOT more than $29,000 a year are not being used regularly, with most used “only a few times” in the previous year. Six of the pass-holders are members of the MassDOT Board of Directors. An appendix to the report shows the six board members parking in the garage 150 times in fiscal 2013, for an average cost of $63 per day. While the annual cost of parking passes was $1,533, one board member parked only nine times in fiscal 2013. And three of the state’s “spare” parking passes, also costing about $1,500 a year, were not used a single time during the fiscal year, according to the report, which recommends using “readily available” complimentary vouchers instead of maintaining the more costly parking passes.

– Noting seven employees assigned full-time MassDOT vehicles are parking regularly in the City Place Garage at a cost of more than $10,000 a year, the report called into question whether the vehicle assignments are justified. “Based on a review of the parking pass activity for these seven state vehicles, we identified that they are often parked for full workdays in the City Place Garage, and that multiple entries/exits throughout the day are not taking place,” the report said, noting state policies mostly ban the use of MassDOT vehicles for commuting.

“I’m unaware of anybody who is using it for commuting only,” Davey said. “We’ve got a pretty restrictive number of employees who have take-home cars, but those that do are responsible to me to be responding at all hours of the night, so whether it’s the chief operating officer of the T or the highway administrator, if there’s an accident, an issue, they need to respond. Those are the folks – my senior management team – who have cars, because when I expect them to go, they need to go.”

– Using two neighboring garages to determine fair market value, the audit unit concluded that about $968,000 of taxable fringe benefits related to parking were not calculated and reported to state and federal tax authorities from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2013. “Therefore, employees have not paid any taxes associated with this fringe benefit,” the report said. The IG’s office reported the MBTA has updated its taxable fringe benefit calculation “since this review.” MassDOT is also using an “outdated federal exclusion amount of $240” to calculate fringe benefit for 66 employees, resulting in employees overpaying 2013 taxes by $3,960.

– The report found 131 employees are provided with complimentary parking at a 157-space MassDOT parking facility located at 185 Kneeland Street in Boston. Twenty-six spaces at that lot are used by motor pool vehicles, or are vacant, according to the report. “MassDOT Payroll has not calculated or reported taxable fringe benefits for the 131 employees who receive complimentary parking at the Kneeland Street lot,” the report said. “I’m not sure under tax law that it’s taxable income for employees to park at a surface parking lot that isn’t otherwise available to the public,” Davey said.

– Auditors faulted MassDOT for paying monthly rent and employee parking costs at 10 Park Plaza using capital funds. While calling that method of payment “common government practice,” investigators wrote that every dollar MassDOT borrows to fund parking and rent expenses, the state will end up paying $1.75 back over 25 years. MassDOT is scheduled to spent over $25 million in capital funds on parking and rent at 10 Park Plaza over the five-year lease term that runs through fiscal 2015.

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