The issue of fees was raised at our recent council meeting during the adoption of our city budget. I am concerned that well-intentioned comments may have created some confusion that needs to be addressed.
Fees reimburse the city for the cost of providing focused services that benefit specific individuals or groups, as opposed to services that advance the needs of the general public.
The city charges fees for certain services because it is the most fair and equitable approach.
The general public pays for and can freely use streets, parks and police services, which is why the costs for those services essentially are paid by the city using the general fund or other revenue sources such as grants.
Fees, on the other hand, are charged for services that only certain residents want or need. Examples include fees for recreation programs (swimming lessons, day camps, youth sports, etc.) building inspections, development review, and many other services.
Fees are set through a deliberative and public process by the City Council. Under state law, the city is not permitted to make a profit on user fees. Rather, the purpose of fees is simply to recover the city's costs for a particular service.
The state constitution requires the city to perform a rigorous analysis of the fees that are charged to ensure that each fee is not higher than the actual cost of providing the service. The city's list of master fees and charges is reviewed and voted annually by the City Council at the same time the budget is passed.
How does the city know if its fees are fair? City fees are periodically examined to make sure that the city is following the law. For example, the staff will be conducting two studies over the next few months. One study will review the Business License Administration Fee, and the other study will analyze all other city fees and charges.
If the analysis finds that city fees are too high or too low, the fees will be adjusted accordingly.
In some cases, a service may provide a significant benefit to the individual as well as the general public. In these cases, the City Council may make a policy decision to subsidize a portion of the service from the general fund and charge a fee that does not recover the full cost. Recreation fees are a good example of fees that are commonly subsidized by the city.
Some city fees have been reduced because the staff determined that the cost for providing the service was less than when the fee was set. An example is the vehicle tow release fee which was reduced because advances in technology required less staff time than was originally the case.
Building permit fees reimburse the city for the cost of staff to review the plan and inspect the construction project to ensure that the building meets state-mandated construction code requirements. These steps ensure that public safety concerns are addressed.
Finally, in reference to home-based businesses, Concord welcomes home-based businesses, but the city has to ensure the integrity of its residential neighborhoods. The permit pays for staff time to determine if the type of business is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
For example, businesses such as auto repair or welding have the potential to disrupt normal life in a neighborhood, depriving residents of the enjoyment of their property. Accordingly, the staff needs to ensure that home-based businesses are in the appropriate location, often by applying use conditions to reduce adverse impacts.
These comments are intended to be more of a summary of the subject of fees rather than a comprehensive analysis of the subject.
There are other fees, such as that required for business licenses that are still under close review, but for the current municipal budget, the council is satisfied that the fees adopted for this fiscal year are appropriate and necessary.
I hope the people of Concord will accept that we have given this matter our most sincere and objective consideration.
Dan Helix is the mayor of Concord. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.