City sets new fees for agenda packets

SOLANA BEACH — City Council agreed at the Oct. 27 meeting to create or increase seven fees in two departments, partially to recover costs, but also to encourage environmentalism.
Several recent requests by residents for a special noticing subscription service prompted the city clerk to look into recovering staff time and mailing costs.
A consultant was hired to determine the appropriate fee for each service. Similar fees charged by other California cities were also reviewed.
Anyone who wants to receive all special notices will be charged $47. The cost for an annual subscription for agendas only was set at $474. Beginning in 1997, the cost for this service in Solana Beach was $30 a year, but it fell off the user fee schedule in 2008.
Other California jurisdictions currently charge between $20 and $200 annually. The cost in Chula Vista, the closest local city to charge a fee, is $30 a year.
The full agenda packet with all accompanying staff reports will now cost $1,542, also above the state range of $175 to $1,000. Temecula, the closest city with this type of fee, charges $175 annually.
There are currently no requests for any of these subscription services. All documents are available free online and can be viewed at no cost at City Hall, the library, La Colonia Community Center and Fletcher Cove lifeguard station.
While council members said they favor full cost recovery, they had some concerns about the fee amounts.
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with those levels,” Mayor Tom Campbell said. “I think a fee is not unreasonable, but to me to get approximately 26 agendas (at) 475 bucks a year, that just seems like a lot of money.”
On the plus side, Councilmen Dave Roberts and Mike Nichols said the high fees could encourage people to get the information from the city website.
“I’m all about cost recovery on it,” Nichols said. “Whoever requests it should pay for what it costs, however, it’s free online.”
Individual agendas or packets for a specific meeting are available at City Hall. The cost for those is based on the number of pages requested.
Council members also authorized a flat fee of $70 for all fire building plan checks, which represents a slight increase for residential projects but a decrease for businesses larger than 1,750 square feet.
Fees will also go up, depending on the number of sprinkler heads, for most fire plan checks and inspections. The same is true for fire alarm system plan checks and inspections, with the fee varying depending on the number of devices.
Council members also established new fees for plan checks and inspections for specialty fire protection systems. These include devices such as exhaust hoods or chemical suppression systems typically found in restaurants.
Given the current economy, Roberts said he was hesitant to approve new fees for small businesses.
“The one I was concerned about really … was the one on adding new fees, in this environment, to our business community,” Roberts said.
He agreed to support all the fees since they were introduced together, but he said he would like his colleagues to revisit some of them later.
“Since we’re such an environmental city here, we don’t want all this paper being printed and wasted,” Roberts said. “We have really great electronic services here. People really ought to be utilizing them.”
A comprehensive update of user fees was last conducted in June 2007. Last year council directed staff to perform user fee studies on a routine basis to ensure cost recovery. The new fees for agenda subscriptions and special noticing include the estimated cost for printing, mailing and staff time.

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