Towing reimbursement costing university $17,000

By Chelsie Field

The University of Massachusetts will be spending $17,000 to compensate the 180 students whose vehicles were towed the night of Sept. 3 in Lot 44 to prepare for the next-day move in of 7,000 students to the east side of campus.

Maria Uminski/Collegian

A miscommunication between Residential Life, Parking Services and students and their families left many unaware of temporary restrictions that had been placed on Lot 44. The lot was closed to support a new move-in system that required the east side of campus to check in there.

“The moment we heard that students’ cars had been towed, we decided to reimburse those students and forgive the parking fines levied against them,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in email interview. “The towing should never have occurred, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that it does not happen again.”

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said in an email interview that the responsibility of the incident lies with “the University administration as a whole,” adding that “communication among offices, including Residential Life and Parking Services, should have been better.”

“We’ll make sure that an improved process is in place (for next year),” Blaguszewski said.

The money for reimbursing all affected students is coming from a general operating contingency fund, which contains money the university sets aside each year in its general operating budget for one-time, unplanned events and circumstances, which vary from year to year, according to Blaguszewski. This can include matters such as storm damage to grounds and buildings, clean-up of hazardous spills and increased costs to improve disability access to facilities, he said. The fund, which is managed by officials in Administration and Finance, is budgeted at $700,000.

“Having such a fund is a common business practice, especially at large institutions such as UMass Amherst, which has a total operating budget of $960 million this year,” Blaguszewski said.

According to Blaguszewski, all cars have been removed from Ernie’s Towing and Parking Services reported that the reimbursement process is going well.

Upon picking up their vehicles last week from Ernie’s Towing, with offices in both North Amherst and Northampton, many students showed up at the wrong location or were met with lines out the door.

“We had to stand in line for three and a half hours,” junior Heather Trainor said of her and her friends.

Trainor, who was reimbursed a couple of days ago, said the process was easy but undesirable.

“I’m glad I got reimbursed, obviously. I think it was unnecessary, the whole thing,” she said of the incident.

In an email sent to affected students last week, director of Residential Life Eddie Hull outlined the process of obtaining reimbursement from the university for students whose vehicles were towed.

According to the email, refunds will be made in cash and issued through this Friday. To receive a refund, the original towing receipt and a valid university I.D. needs to be brought to the Parking Office, which is adjacent to the entrance to the parking garage located on the concourse level of the Campus Center.

The Parking Office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Chelsie Field can be reached at [email protected]