Home   Archive


Tax Entitlements of special fees?

Jack Balshaw 5/1/02

The City Council is in a bind trying to find money to do the things they need or want to do. As a result, they had a consultant perform a special study to determine how the city could charge for various services.

These services run from having to pay the Police Dept to sign off on a vehicle repair citation (i.e. a broken tail light) to paying a fee for a fire truck to come to your home. My first reaction was, if not outrage, at least cynicism. Why shouldn't the taxpayers get something free for the taxes they pay? People assume certain services are paid for with taxes and there shouldn't be any further charge for these services, especially police and fire.

Surprise, our taxes don't pay for even basic police and fire services. The Police Dept's annual budget is over $10 million and the Fire Dept's is over $7 million. Property taxes from the whole city are only $4 million and sales taxes about $9 million this year.

After recognizing this, I took a little softer view about the study on charging for extra services. If we were paying our way it would be one thing. But as we're not, then I accept that we're in no position to complain if the city can reasonably justify charging extra for certain specific services.

Not that I'm about to say, "Poor city council, we should give them whatever they want". There are many issues to raise about fairness and many areas where, by reducing costs, they wouldn't need so much money from other sources. However, what they decide TO do is also a decision on what WON'T get done. There's only so much money and once it's spent nothing else can be done.

The City Council is spending money it doesn't need to spend. Our General Plan update is much more costly than necessary. Imagine, over $4 million ($1.8 million for the water resources portion alone) for a General Plan for a city that says it isn't going to grow and has limited land to develop. The 1985 General Plan proposal to consultants was maybe two pages. The proposal for the new General Plan was seventy.

The new traffic circle at Ely and Casa Grande is nice but the city spent over $300,000 to replace four stop signs that were working OK. Traffic circles or roundabouts are the in thing so we had to have one even if we didn't need it. This money could have been spent to fix streets. The sound walls on Caulfield and Washington consumed over $2 million that also could have been spent on streets. Let's not forget $600,000 on Lafferty to serve a few special people. Yes, the city is in a bind for money, but they have also spent much unwisely.

We, the citizens will have to contribute towards paying for those things we want and those things that have to be worked on. These latter include street improvements and a new wastewater treatment facility. But, in providing these extra funds, there needs to be specific understandings on how we want things done.

We can fly (so to speak) first class and get a few projects done with all the whistles and bells or we can fly coach and get much more done but in a more utilitarian way. We have to both ask ourselves and tell the council whether we'd prefer landscaped city streets or no landscaping but more streets repaired. How much should go for bicycle lanes? 5%, 10%, more? The eventual discussion on how to raise the necessary money should also include a discussion of the quality of service we desire.


Home   Archive