May 16, 2012 |

Council Considers Fee Increases

Services Provided By City Discussed

Lynne Bronstein

Observer Reporter

Monday’s City Council meeting saw the Council mulling the establishment and amending of fees and charges for services provided by the City.

In the shadow of the upcoming budget hearings, the issue of fee increases was not easy to resolve. The Council passed the fee resolution but only after considerable discussion.

In 2008, after a comprehensive study of city fees by a consultant, Culver City approved a “cost recovery policy” and implementation schedule. The current overall cost recovery for each fee area is the same as the cost recovery goal. For most areas, the projected 2012-2013 cost recovery is also the same.

Some fees have been adjusted over the years to meet the overall goals. Due to the fact that staff costs will be increasing by two percent over the next fiscal year, staff recommended a two percent increase in fees, as well as new fees for special events permits.

Among other recommendations, staff suggested that commercial business inspection fees fluctuate according to the square foot size, less per square foot for smaller businesses and more for larger businesses. There would also be a fee increase for use of Veteran’s Memorial Park, increases in facility rental fees (which have not been increased in five years), and fees to cover costs for DUI collisions.

Among the community members who reacted to these proposals was Goran Eriksson, Chair of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce. He noted that while most increases were two percent, business tax certificates were to be subject to a four percent increase.

“In dollars it’s not a large amount,” he said. “But what is the reason for it? As a city we need to be careful of how our cost of doing business compares to other cities.”

Matthew Hetz, director of the Culver City Orchestra, was concerned about fee increases having an impact on the cultural activities of Culver City and on non-profit organizations such as the orchestra. Other cities have facilities that orchestras can use for free.

“Orchestras do not make money,” said Hetz. “But they enrich the community.”

Nick Kimball of the City’s Finance Department said that some services would receive subsidies. This, and the subject of the fees themselves, prompted numerous questions from the Council members.

Mayor Andrew Weissman wanted to know why the reported two million subsidy would not be used to cover fees for rental of Veteran’s Auditorium (where the above-mentioned orchestra concerts are held).

Kimball replied: “The two million subsidy does not include Vet’s Auditorium. The fees there are market rate for property. How much can be charged for rental of space is what the market will bear.” He also replied to Eriksson’s concern about business taxes, saying that the business tax fee has not been increased in several years.

New Council members Jim Clarke and Meghan Sahli-Wells peppered Kimball and other city staff with questions on all sorts of fees ranging from fire inspection (Kimball said the Fire Department’s inspections are mostly of small businesses which get the smaller fees based on the explanation above) to the fee for overrun on oil drilling (“Prop 218 governs how much you can charge” said Kimball).

In addition to eventually approving the fee schedule as submitted, the Council also directed staff to prepare for a future agenda a discussion on fees related to non-profit organizations.

In other actions, the Council approved the vacating of a portion of Ocean Drive from the east side of Overland Avenue extending approximately 110 feet east to its easterly terminus.

Public Works Director Charles Herbertson explained that the street is a “short stub of Ocean Avenue on the east side of Overland, that was never vacated in the past” when it was turned into an unofficial parking lot for an office building at 5000 Overland.

The City will be maintaining an easement for the short street for the purpose of entering nearby Ballona Creek.

“Who gets to tell Google Maps that it is no longer a street?” asked Sahli-Wells.

Herbertson replied that the Los Angeles County Assessors will update their maps and the change will no doubt be observed by the Google Map people during their next update cycle.

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