The Morning Report
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Monday, September 19, 2005 | Fee-ding the ledger. The San Diego City Council on Monday will consider enacting fee increases it approved to balance the budget in June, although the stack of new charges may join others the council has already struck down since originally endorsing the fees needed to legally keep city services afloat.
The council will vote on whether to start collecting higher fees for running volleyball leagues, burying the deceased at Mount Hope Cemetery in Chollas View, and issuing alcohol licenses to businesses.
All three fee increases were passed during budget hearings, but the shorthanded council has already discarded other fees it had planned to charge to recover the cost of services the city provides. If approved, administrators expect to generate $111,000 annually to offset the costs of those services.
In July, the six-member council failed to ratify several fee increases it approved in June when the budget had to be balanced, such as a price of admission for the Balboa Park botanical building and permit fees for designated parking areas around town. Not approving those fees resulted in the city being over budget by about $275,000, budget director Jeff Sturak said.
The council originally approved the package of fee increases to close a significant gap in the annual budget. That was in June, before the resignation of Mayor Dick Murphy and the criminal convictions of Council members Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza shrunk the council from nine members to six.
It takes the approval of five of the six council members to pass a cost-recovery fee increase. The City Charter mandates that a balanced budget is passed every year by June 30.
If more than one council member objects to the increases, city staff will have to tack on another $111,000 worth of budget-balancing solutions it will present to the council on Oct. 10. In August, the council decided to ask for monthly budget updates from the city auditor.
Already, the council will have to approve budget revisions totaling at least $6 million to account for already-rejected fee increases and because the state budget did not include reimbursing the city of San Diego for housing prisoners, which was assumed in June.
Councilman Tony Young said he hasn’t decided on how he will vote, but said he was unhappy on levying new fees on residents that generate a minimal amount of money when compared to the city’s enormous financial strains.
“That’s ridiculous to me,” he said. “When we talk about a budget that’s well over a couple billion dollars, it does not make sense.”
Young said the new fees adversely impact low-income residents and children much more than they positively affect the city’s fiscal health.
Councilman Brian Maienschein, who voted for raising permit fees in the city’s five parking districts in June but opposed it in July when it came to ratify the increase, said he was uncertain how he would vote Monday.
“I’ve basically opposed fees, but it’s not so much the fee than what the fee is for,” said Maienschein, who stated that he supports fees recovering public safety costs.
As small as the fees seem, the council should consider them as part of a comprehensive solution to the city’s financial struggles, Councilman Scott Peters said. He backed enacting the already-approved fees, saying that “it’s not appropriate to change the course.”
Sturak said that the July decision to reverse fee increases was an exception to the rule, and not a common practice used in years past to balance a budget without actually raising the fee further down the line.
“That was the first time it happened, at least in recent memory,” he said.
As for including “contingent revenues” into future budgets – as was the case with the $5.2 million inked into the current year’s financial plan when it was assumed that the city would be reimbursed its prisoner housing costs – Sturak said that practice will depend on what the next mayor wants.