DEL MAR — The Del Mar City Council on July 6 increased fees for various city services, especially those related to planning and building, in order to shift costs from the general public to service users.
The city hadn’t updated its fees since 2009. The update now, culminating a years-long process, aims “to reduce the amount that general funds are diverted from general services to subsidize [user-requested] services,” according to the adoption resolution.
City Manager CJ Johnson called the city’s old planning-related fees “extremely generous.” The old fees covered only about three-quarters of the related services’ true costs, including the value of city staff time, according to a 2019 report.
For example, the Citizens’ Participation Program fee previously recovered only 42 percent of program implementation costs. Council began this program in 2015 “to make neighbors (and the public) aware of any development proposal early in its design phase and also to give interested parties an opportunity to meet with the project applicant and discuss concerns,” according to a city staff report. To make this program self-supporting, applicants must now pay a $4,143 fee, up from $1,620 previously.
Council’s newly adopted schedule includes 159 fees — some increased or new, others decreased, to achieve net cost recovery — in five categories: 82 fees for planning and land use applications (e.g., design review, coastal development permits, etc.); 38 for fire department fees for building permits (e.g., sprinkler and fire alarm system inspections); 22 for community services (e.g., park and beach group use, Powerhouse Community Center rental, parking passes); 14 for public works, namely, rates and charges for water service (e.g., turn-on and shut-off, curb painting); and 3 for administrative costs (e.g., notary, public records requests).
The first category alone would yield some $62,000 in new revenue over the remainder of FY 2020-2021, closing the cost-recovery gap.
Council approved the new fee schedule in a 3 to 2 vote.
Those in support cited the city’s need for income during the present pandemic-induced recession. Del Mar, which depends far more than other North County cities on transient occupancy (hotel) tax, suffered a 20 percent loss of general government revenues between March and June.
“This is a time when we all have to make sacrifices,” Mayor Ellie Haviland said at the council’s July 6 meeting. “Subsidizing fees for a small group of residents, to me, is not rising to the challenge of this financial crisis.”
Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland and Councilman Dave Druker opposed the new fees.
“These fees are way out of line with the kind salaries or incomes that at least a third of our community have, so these fees are tuned toward the richest of among us, and I really object to that,” Gaasterland said. “I think we’re leaving people out with this kind of fee schedule.”
Since the council already adopted a balanced budget without assuming increased fees, Druker questioned the need to increase them now.
“I know we have a fiscal crisis, but this is not explicitly part of our recovery route,” he said.
The city may increase the new fees annually in order to keep pace with inflation. The new schedule offers discounts or exemptions for certain Del Mar nonprofits’ use of city-owned facilities.
Council can revisit fees as part of its biennial budget process next spring, Johnson said.