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HFS rate increase proposal endorsed, next step Board of Regents

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Pam Schreiber, left, and Ann Gigli, both of HFS, attend the RHSA meeting Wednesday. The RHSA council voted to approve a housing- and dining-plan-rate increase.

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The Resident Hall Student Association executive board counts votes for a proposal to increase rates at the RHSA meeting Wednesday. The proposal passed.

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Source: UW Housing and Food services

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Source: UW Housing and Food services

In an e-mail to residents and a presentation to the Residence Hall Student Association (RHSA) Feb. 3, Housing and Food Services (HFS) announced their rate proposal for 2010-11, including a 6.4-percent increase in room rates and a 2.5-percent increase in dining rates. RHSA members met yesterday and voted to endorse the proposal.

“[HFS is] a self-sustaining unit of the university,” said Ann Gigli, HFS administrator for Planning and Purchasing, about the necessity of the increases. “We get no state funds, we get no taxpayer funds, none of the tuition comes to us. Everything we do is paid for by revenues that we generate through housing and dining, and other fees.”

While RHSA does not help develop the housing budget and does not have official power over the proposal, Gigli said that she could not imagine HFS taking the proposal to the Board of Regents without their support.

“They have a really good reputation for not changing anything before they at least come to RHSA,” RHSA president Almeera Anwar said. “They say again and again they won’t take anything to the Board of Regents without RHSA’s approval.”

Many costs have contributed to the overall 6.4-percent escalation in student-housing rates, but by far the largest contributor is the 2.24-percent increase for data, TV and telephone associated with the Office of UW Technology.

“UW technology has not raised rates since 2006. … [We] went through a major cost-accounting exercise to see what things were costing us to deliver our service,” said Kelli Trosvig, chief operating officer of UW Technology.

UW Technology found that, because of budgeting that led them not not to raise rates since 2006, residents were being charged $5 for Ethernet ports that cost $10.22 to maintain, and $13.22 per month for cable TV that cost UW Technology $23. UW Technology is now facing the resulting deficit.

“They didn’t really realize that they were losing money on these services,” Trosvig said. “If you’re losing money in lots of little places, it can wind up being significant amounts of money in no time.”

This one-time charge, while a significant cost to next year’s residents, will update data systems and lead to more realistic charges for services like cable TV and Internet.

“It’s why I was brought in,” Trosvig said. “We’re working really hard to make sure we deliver good service to the dorms.”

The second-largest contributor is the annual 2-percent Housing Master Plan rate increase, which began fall quarter 2009, and will continue to add 2 percent to housing rates every year until 2022.

This doesn’t pay for the Housing Master Plan directly, Gigli said. Instead, it contributes money to the HFS reserve fund, which is essentially a bank account that must contain a minimum balance that is proportional to the amount of debt that HFS has. Because their debt will increase with the construction of the new residence halls and student apartments, HFS must build up the reserve fund’s balance through this annual 2-percent increase.

Increases in city utility rates, including power, water and waste disposal, also impacted the rate proposal. They account for a .93-percent increase. Residence-hall maintenance accounts for a .46-percent increase.

Although the HFS salary freeze initiated last winter is still in effect, because of contract obligations with some employees, labor costs will also increase by .77 percent, Gigli said.

In order to keep the rate increase as low as 6.4 percent while including unavoidable increases for utilities, technology and the Housing Master Plan, and maintaining current levels of student services, HFS has looked internally to trim costs where they can, Gigli said.

“We’re still trimming printing costs, postage costs, all of those things out of our budget,” she said. “We’re switching more and more to e-mail and the Web.”

In past years, HFS budgets have included money to create new programs such as tutoring and counseling in residence halls. However, in another attempt to keep the rate increase as low as possible, next year’s budget includes no room for new programming.

“We’re not expanding these programs, but we’re not dropping them, either,” Gigli said.

Even with the internal cuts, because of the significant rate increases for UW Technology, among others, the 6.4 percent proposed housing-rate increase for the 2010-11 school year is a full 2 percent higher than last year’s 4.4-percent increase.

Anwar said that some students expressed interest in a dining-optional plan that would allowed them to purchase cheaper food off-campus.

On March 18, HFS Director Pam Schreiber will present the rate proposal to the UW Board of Regents for final approval.

Reach reporter Natalie Johnson at news@dailyuw.com.

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