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Council Continues Hearing On New, Increased Fees

Clear Source Financial Consulting out of Aptos put plenty of information down in black and white – and dollars and cents.

Much of it made sense to Escalon City Council members, but lingering concerns and unanswered questions about some proposed fee hikes and implementation of new fees prompted the continuance of a public hearing. The hearing was part of the Monday night, April 2 regular City Council session and with Clear Source Principal Consultant Terry Madsen there to give an overview of the new fee structure, it was determined that too many proposed changes need more explanation.

Specifically, council members Robert Swift and Ed Alves questioned the reasoning behind some of the fee hikes and though they agreed that the Clear Source proposal was well presented, they want a little more time to review it.

Fees range from those charged by the police department for such services as a DUI investigation to booking fees, to rental at the Community Center and gazebo, to the cost for inspecting water heater installations. It was a wide ranging review of all the city’s existing fees and Madsen said the firm worked closely with staff and also gathered information on current cost recovery by departments in order to help prepare the new fee structures for Escalon.

Madsen had provided the study findings in depth at the March 19 council meeting and came back to the April 2 session for what was anticipated to be a brief review, the public hearing and adoption of the fees.

“In aggregate, all the city’s departments are recovering less than the full cost of providing those services,” Madsen said of the rationale to implement staggered increases, with the goal of having the city services be self-supporting in the future. “The long term goal is 100 percent recovery of costs.”

Building and planning fees, recreation fees, permit fees; all would change under the plan proposed.

“There’s an awful lot to digest here,” councilman Swift said, adding that he was also concerned there could be some “unintended consequences” arising out of increases in multiple fees.

“You’ve done a great job here, don’t get me wrong,” Swift told Madsen, adding that he just feels more time is needed before the council moves forward with implementation.

Madsen told Swift he was “very impressed with staff” that worked with him on the project and he is “very comfortable” that the new fees are reasonable for the community.

Councilman Ed Alves said he wants to be sure he knows all that he is voting for and said he has to be able to provide answers to his constituents when they want to know why specific fees were increased.

“We’ve had water, sewer and garbage rate hikes,” Alves pointed out. “I would like to sit down and go over these fees, I think there are areas we need to look at a little stronger.”

Madsen said he was willing to do the detailed review, but all agreed it was better suited for a special meeting as opposed to a line by line look at a council meeting. Swift and Alves were appointed to an ad hoc committee to conduct the review with Madsen.

The public hearing was continued until the May 7 meeting and, in the interim, the two councilmen and Madsen will conduct the thorough review, perhaps bringing back some changes to the full council for consideration at that May meeting. There will also be an additional chance for the public to comment on the proposal.

“If we need the increases, we need them,” Alves said, but added that he wants to make sure and the review will accomplish that. “That makes me feel better about myself and this community.”

The motion to continue the hearing was unanimous.

“We’ll continue it,” said Mayor Jeff Laugero, “so we can justify what we’re doing up here.”