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City raises many fees, lowers few

Road maintenance fees for large businesses are still to be adopted at next council meeting

Wholesale changes were made to the city's fee schedule at the last city council meeting. With very few exceptions, fees increased, according to Kirsten Wyatt, city spokesperson and the one who presented the package of fees for city council approval.

Even while the fees were approved Jan. 14, amendments to the schedule were being planned for consideration at next Monday's meeting. Wyatt said that the changes in fees are due to new calculations about the cost of serving the public.

'We're trying to get each department into the practice of looking at the entire fee schedule and evaluating rates,' Wyatt said, 'to ensure that the fees charged reflect the true cost of the service being provided.'

Since the city receives such a low tax rate, Wyatt said, its officials believe they must charge fees to pay for the actual cost of operating city government.

West Linn receives $2.12 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which funds three departments (parks, library and police). That compares to Oregon City's $5.05, Milwaukie's $6.53, Lake Oswego's $5.03 Tualatin's $2.26 and Wilsonville's $2.52.

Even when the $1.52 TVF and R levy is added to the $2.12 - to make West Linn comparable to Lake Oswego, which has its own fire department - West Linn still receives the lowest public funding for incorporated cities with fire departments in the metro area, Wyatt said.

'West Linn (with fire services) is $3.64 (per $1,000) and Lake Oswego is $5.03,' Wyatt said, 'and yet people in West Linn expect to have Lake Oswego quality services. It's a big difference, and this is the driving force behind any need for fees.'

The annual time that fees are evaluated also is changing. It has been at the beginning of each calendar year but will move to the budget season.

'Our goal is to have one point in time when we take the entire fee packet and look at it as a city and make all the updates we need to make,' Wyatt said. 'Ideally, in the future, you'll see amendments to the fee schedule being adopted at the same time that a budget is adopted. In that way, all of the assumptions that are inherent in a budget will also be reflected in the fee schedule.'

Wyatt said the city is trying to make fee changes a more public process, using the budget committee to communicate to the public any need to change fees. In the current revision of fees, two concessions were given on (actual cost) fees that seemed too high to city staff and local business owners.

Using the method accepted by the area's larger cities, the cost for appeals to decisions by the city's planning department would be about $5,500 for each appeal; however, the fee schedule now lists the price at only $2,500 - instead of the previous $400 fee.

The calculated actual cost of one appeal, according to the planning department, is $5,367, which is comparable to cities such as Lake Oswego, Hillsboro and Portland. But local residents can get an appeal free if they can convince two city councilors or a neighborhood association to sponsor the appeal.

In comparison, Tigard charges $2,461 for appeals; Tualatin, $115; Milwaukie, $505; Oregon City, $2,734; and Wilsonville, $800.

Other fees with significant changes include a 5 percent raise in utility rates, 30-40 percent increase for water meters and a 250 percent hike in street permit fees.

Photocopying fees were lowered 20-30 percent, and deposits on the use of city facilities were eliminated. Instead, Wyatt said, a credit card number is taken and used to pay for damage (if it occurs).

In response to the reason for the current changes, Wyatt said the people now in charge are trying to make city services sustainable.

'Under the current administration,' she said, 'there has been much more recognition of the need for our fees to recover the true cost of providing services.'

The calculation of roadway maintenance fees for the largest businesses in town is ongoing, and will be presented for consideration at Monday's council meeting.

As initially proposed, each of the city's largest businesses was looking at nearly $40,000 a year in fees to maintain city streets. The city estimates that there are 120 non-home-based businesses in the city. Of those, more than 90 qualify to pay more than the minimum $4.40 monthly roadway maintenance fee that is charged to all households and small businesses.

The large businesses will be affected by Monday's decision on fees. Wyatt expects the amount to be lower than initially proposed.

Speak out

WHAT: West Linn City Council will consider ammendments to the fees package that was approved last week.

WHEN: 6 p.m., Monday.

WHERE: City hall, 22500 Salamo Road.