The City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee today approved a new user fee policy, which is an initial step for fee hikes expected later this year.

The policy outlines how fees would be set to recover the costs of services such as fire inspections. A calculation of the services’ costs would include overhead and could be adjusted annually for inflation.

If the City Council approves the policy next month, the city will bring forward several potential fee increases, which could bring in $2 million to $5 million.

But other fee hikes are at least a year away because they depend on the city’s comprehensive computer system, known as OneSD or ERP, which is behind schedule and overbudget, as my colleague Scott Lewis has chronicled.

The city’s chief financial officer, Mary Lewis, told council members today that city officials don’t have good data to back some fee increases. For instance, she noted that the Parks and Recreation Department doesn’t have a reliable count of the people who use certain park programs, which makes it tough to set fees for those programs.

Lewis said the ERP program is expected to go live in July, and it will take a few months after that “to capture the good data to support some of the user fees.”

The computer system would, for instance, allow a city employee who splits her time supervising several park programs to break down that time on the system, much like the way attorneys track their time for billing.

Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, told me that the city won’t “get into that level of detail for every single activity, but we could.”

The independent budget analyst, Andrea Tevlin, said today that updated user fees are long overdue, saying that the failure to revisit the fees means that taxpayers subsidize services that were meant to be covered by fees.

RANI GUPTA

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