2012-05-25 / Front Page

City Council approves new fees

Money to go to Camarillo’s general fund
By Stephanie Guzman
Special to the Acorn

Natasha Lopez, general manager of Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler in Camarillo, was one of many restaurateurs across the county who threw a Cinco de Mayo event earlier this month.

Lopez, who obtained a free special event permit from city hall for the party, said her restaurant’s patio was packed with customers who came for drinks and live music.

Next year, Chuy’s will have to pay a $311 permit fee to the city to host its Cinco de Mayo event.

The permit fee is one of 14 new user fees the Camarillo City Council passed during its regular meeting late last month.

These fees, not to be confused with taxes, aren’t unfamiliar to those who pay to enter a state park, recycle electronic waste or release a car impounded by the police.

User fees are charged for services usually provided by state or city governments. When state and city revenues are high, the government pays for those services with tax money from general funds.

When the state’s revenue dips—such as during a recession— those tax dollars dip and general funds are reduced, leading local and state agencies to seek revenue elsewhere, such as by charging additional fees.

Camarillo’s general fund is no different.

Ronnie Campbell, the city’s finance manager, said in fiscal year 2007-08 the general fund for Camarillo was about $33 million. The general fund for fiscal year 2011-12 dropped to $30 million.

“The city was subsidizing services because they had a surplus of revenue,” Campbell said. “Because of the state takeaways and the economic downturn, we have $3 million less, and we have to then begin cost recovery.”

Cost recovery means the city charges user fees based on how much the services cost.

The City Council last updated user fees in 2003.

The city hired NBS, a consulting firm based in Riverside County, to help determine what fees could be charged.

NBS studied the hourly rates of city employees, the amount of time it took a person to perform a specific service, administrative salaries, the user fees of nearby cities and the cost of materials such as paper, ink and computer software updates.

The company suggested 16 new user fees that would increase the general fund by $1.1 million. The council passed 14 of the suggested fees.

The highest charge is an $1,840 permit for a special event that needs to be approved by the City Council.

Events that go through the council usually require road closures and police presence. The council voted to exempt nonprofits, including the Camarillo Street Fair and Fiesta, which shuts down Ventura Boulevard and donates proceeds to local schools.

Several user fees affect construction and business, including a $282 annual stormwater-monitoring permit.

Lucy McGovern, the deputy public works director for Camarillo, said her department is required by the state to inspect businesses for all potential sources of pollutants, such as toxic chemicals used in cleaning storefronts, that could leak into storm drains.

“Most of the businesses we’re talking about are automotive garages and restaurants,” said McGovern, who said the city monitors between 100 to 200 businesses a year.

A similar fee of $211 is for the public works department to inspect water treatment devices.

McGovern said her department inspects about 50 housing developments and shopping centers for mechanical devices or natural barriers, such as soil, that separate oil and chemicals from the water that goes into storm drains.

The city previously performed these inspections for free, but with new environmental regulations it has a hard time covering costs, she said.

“It is a burden,” McGovern said. “(Businesses are) upset. It’s another fee being charged by the government during a hard economic period.”

Camarillo Vice Mayor Charlotte Craven said the fees are necessary because of the requirements placed on the city by other government agencies.

“Agencies have increased the amount of work we have to do, and we have to pass it along,” Craven said.

The council reduced some proposed fees and voted to not enact an oversize vehicle parking fee and a fee for licensing an animal in the city.

Camarillo Mayor Jan McDonald said at a study session during the council meeting that she didn’t want residents to say Camarillo was “no longer a friendly city.”

Campbell said if the general fund can subsidize the services in the future, the city could lower or remove the fees altogether.

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