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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | By EVAN McLAUGHLIN
The City Council approved about $2.56 million in new revenue Tuesday by imposing new fees, such as a nominal admission to the Balboa Park Botanical Building, while hiking a number of existing fees for residents and businesses.
The fee package approved by the council is well short of the $3.2 million City Manager Lamont Ewell expected the council to produce for next year’s budget. When added to the $1.7 million shortfall the city manager projected earlier in the day, the council still has a budget gap of $2.36 million to reconcile either through additional cuts or by imposing more fees.
Ewell proposed creating new fees and increasing existing ones — along with cuts to services and personnel across the board — to help narrow a $50 million budget gap that was estimated for the next fiscal year. Ewell presented the council with a package of fees that he estimated would generate more than $3.68 million for the 2006 fiscal year. More on his proposal can be read about here.
After about three hours of public comment from residents and business owners who mostly opposed the city manager’s proposals, the council adopted some of Ewell’s suggestions while axing or refining others.
Residential parking permit fees, which the council voted to raise from $14 to $22 for one year in areas that require them — in or near Hillcrest, Mesa College, San Diego State University, Logan Heights and Cortez Hill. The cost of a six-month placard was also raised to $11 from $7.
The city manager proposed raising the annual parking fees for those areas to $45 and six-month fees to $22.50 to generate about $240,000. The structure approved by the council will instead raise about $60,000 in new revenue each year, Deputy City Manager Bruce Herring said.
The council also approved a $1 or $2 price of admission to the botanical building in Balboa Park, charging adult sports teams to use city fields while rejecting the same proposal for youth teams, and a $220 application fee for alcohol licensing in the city.
An estimated $915,000 in new revenue will enter city coffers in fees the council has already approved. The approvals were made in years past but will be realized for the first time in fiscal year 2006.
Increasing fees is not the same as levying taxes as long as the fees are being used to recover the cost of services that are provided by the city, Ewell said. New or higher taxes require the approval of two-thirds of the city’s voters, according to the city charter.
Councilman Jim Madaffer called the proposed increases “nuisance fees,” and said that the expense and trouble of administering the fees would outweigh the revenue they generate.
“I hate them all,” Madaffer said in an interview. “They penalize San Diegans and they’re not worth the effort of collecting them.”
Union leaders Judy Italiano and Joan Raymond — presidents of the Municipal Employees Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 127, respectively — said the city workers had already done their part to help balance the city’s books by agreeing to wage freezes and higher employee contributions to the embattled pension plan. They asked the council members to do their part.
“We were doing that with the expectation that you were going to step up to the plate and do some of the things that were available to you to come up with additional monies and revenue that would be needed,” Italiano said.
Pawnbrokers were among the hardest hit in Ewell’s proposal, but the council voted to significantly soften the increase in their annual inspection fee. The city manager asked the council to raise the annual payment to $4,289 from $34, but the council finalized their fee to be $250 after a presentation by several San Diego pawnbrokers showed that to roughly be the average fee in California’s biggest cities.
The council voted to do away with the city manager’s suggestion that the city charge non-residents for parking in 44 lots near the beach and Mission Bay after expressing concerns over its implementation and its impact on small businesses. Councilman Michael Zucchet also challenged the accuracy of the projected gain for the city — $373,000 for fiscal year 2006 and $1.15 million for every year thereafter — offered by city staff.
Nima Abrahim, owner of Luigi’s At the Beach, a restaurant in Mission Beach, estimated that businesses like his would suffer if Ewell’s proposal to charge up to $12 per vehicle for non-residents passed.
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