Investigators: Local college pays for home to sit empty and unused

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by SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on January 18, 2010 at 11:53 PM

The president of the Evergreen State College in Olympia is getting extra perks that some say are out of touch with today's reality.

Since the inception of the college in 1971, each president of Evergreen State has lived in the official residence of the college. It’s a five bedroom, three bathroom home with a view of the water and Mount Rainier. It’s already paid for as well.

But for the last five years the home’s been empty; collecting bills and dust. President Dr. Les Purce, who declined to be interviewed for this report, moved into a new home to be closer to a bus line to accommodate a family member with a disability.

"The current house simply would not work for the Purce family, so that was the impetus for this move," said Jason Wettstein, Evergreen State College Public Information Officer.    

Needing bus service is a perfectly legitimate reason to relocate, but the KING 5 Investigators looked into whether the cost should be passed on to taxpayers.

A mortgage expert tells us the payment for the president's new house would be roughly $2,500 a month.

His housing allowance, authorized by the Board of College Trustees, is $5,000 a month.

That adds up to $270,000 and counting in extra housing dollars since the move.

Dr. Purce's salary is about $246,000 a year.

Students on campus just saw their tuition go up 14 percent and expect another hike soon.

"That's crazy to me because if he's getting more than the house is worth, then that's just extra money that he's being given by the taxpayers," said student Jeff Konen.

The spending doesn't stop at the president's new doorstep. The old home is racking up expenses.  

The KING 5 Investigators obtained billing records for the official residence; expenses since the home’s sat empty and unused:  $15,000 for utilities, $10,000 for repairs and upgrades, $15,000 to paint and furnish the home to try to sell it, $3,000 in yard maintenance.

"Housing affordability and access is constantly an issue for students so it would have been nice for that to go to some affordable housing. Maybe we could rent out that extra house for some students to live in for a while," said student Josephine Jarvis.

Expenses for the old house, plus the housing allowance for the new one, has cost taxpayers an estimated $313,000 so far.

"You know what they say, $300,000 here, $300,000 there. It begins to add up to real money eventually," said student Alexandre Chateaubriand.

Amber Gunn, Director of the Economic Policy Director of the conservative political watch-dog group Evergreen Freedom Foundation, suggested KING 5 look into the story after she ran across a Request for Quotes put out by the college. The request was for companies to bid on cleaning the president’s new home twice a week.

"It just shows, (they’re) completely oblivious to what is happening around the rest of the state by the unemployment rate and budget problems,” said Gunn. 
        
The cleaning contract is a detailed one which includes: twice a week do the dishes and take out the trash. Once a week wash the floor with wood-friendly soap. Once a month clean window sills and the range hood. That’s an extra $300 a month, not to exceed $778 a month.

"The cleaning service is basically a way to keep the house presentable for public events and to clean up after the public events and these public events in a private home are a regular part of the president's job," said Wettstein.

Records show nine or so events are held at the home each year.

The additional costs come on the backdrop of the state's financial problems: a $2.6-billion deficit.

"And yet we see instances like this where we have a public university with a president who can't do his own dishes and take out his own trash and is asking taxpayers to subsidize that. I see that as highly problematic and symptomatic of other things that are happening in government as well where we have waste like this in small amounts and it adds up and it adds to our budget problems as well," said Gunn.

According to county records, the assessed value of the old home is $773,000. The school first tried to sell it four years ago when the housing market was hot. It's not clear why there were no takers. It's now on the rental market, offered at $2,000 a month.

We checked with Western Washington, Central and Eastern Washington Universities. Each requires the president to live in the official residence as a condition of employment.

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