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Council charges excessive fees

Our city council is adding an excessive total amount in fees to customers' city utility bills, using the lame excuse it's all necessary due to non-renewal of a police levy.

It's already imposed a park maintenance fee of $8.80 per month, estimated to raise $1 million per year.

On Dec. 10 it imposed a street maintenance fee of $4.40 per month for single-family residents and small businesses ($4.18 per month for multi-family residents) and plans on imposing $1,700 to $3,100 per month for city's largest businesses, which all combined is estimated to raise $900,000 per year for street maintenance.

It also plans to impose a street lighting fee of $2.50 per month, estimated to raise $285,000 per year. The total annual amount to be raised by the above-described fees is about $2,185,000.

Three excessive police levy proposals were put before voters in 2006-07. The most excessive (99 cents per thousand) was rejected outright in November 2006. The other two for 84.57 cents per thousand in March and May 2007 failed to meet the double majority requirement,

The latter rate was still very excessive.

The Dodds council proved that a rate of only 50.5 cents per thousand was ample to support the 12 police on the levy after it converted a dollar-based levy to a rate-based levy. If a realistic ample rate not exceeding 55 cents per thousand had been submitted to voters I believe it would undoubtedly have passed.

But the city wanted to increase the levy much beyond that needed to fund the 12 police on the levy in order to also fund much of the regular police department's costs, which are supposed to be funded entirely from the general fund.

I believe this was a scheme to free up much of the police-committed monies in the general fund for other uses, but it failed.

So now the council is imposing excessive fees. They like that better because fees don't require voter approval.

After the last excessive levy proposal failed in May, the council claimed that left more than a $2 million revenue hole to fill with fees. I believe that's much overblown.

At most it left a $1,373,000 hole, representing what a very ample levy rate of 55 cents per thousand to support the 12 police on the levy would have garnered.

But the council is funding the police department as if that excessive levy proposal passed. It's doing so by transfers of funds previously used for other purposes and backfilling those transfers with fees it's imposing.

But most importantly, rather than first resorting to charging road maintenance and street lighting fees, there are other monies and practices that should first be utilized annually to maximize roadway maintenance in a prioritized way, as the Dodds administration started doing.

During the second Dodds administration, voters approved 1) permanent annexation of West Linn into the fire district of TVF and R, and 2) termination of a prior fire levy and contract with TVF and R that freed up about $789,000 annually in general fund revenue to be spent elsewhere.

That termination also left an ending fund balance of $736,000, out of which $500,000 was used to pay off a loan from TVF and R that prior city manager Scott Burgess borrowed to purchase properties within the city block containing the Bolton Fire Station.

The remainder of $236,000 plus that year's freed up $789,000, making a total of $1,025,000, was used as follows by the Dodds Administration.

It used $600,000 from it to add to the prior level of $100,000 per year for street maintenance, making a total of $700,000 for street maintenance and used about $125,000 of it for sidewalk maintenance and infill.

It added the remainder of about $300,000 to the general fund's contingency fund toward achieving its recommended level of 5 percent of general fund revenues.

Also, it maximized the effect of West Linn's $700,000 toward street projects that year through rolling it in with Clackamas County's large road maintenance contracts to achieve lower bids.

Why isn't the King administration doing all of the above like the Dodds administration instead of first imposing street and street lighting fees?

They wouldn't say, when I asked, how they're using the annual $789,000 in general fund revenue no longer needed for fire service. They could have designated it solely for streets. However they've been granting appreciable pay raises and hiring more staff and expensive consultants like there's no money shortage for that.

We need to elect a council majority in 2008 to put a stop to the above excesses and serve the best interests of residents.

Bob Thomas lives in West Linn.