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Our Views: Want local government service? There’s a fee for that

December 6, 2018

One of the first actions of the new Lake Havasu City Council was to approve the annual revision to the list of fees charged by the city.

It’s a long list, detailing the cost for citizens to obtain services from its local government in a couple of hundred different ways. They range from small fees, such as Parks and Recreation locker rentals (unchanged at 25 cents) to big ones (general plan amendment, up $109 to $4,660.)

They include an unchanged fee of $100 for the city to prosecute you for an alleged criminal infraction and a lowered fee to spend the night in the city jail (down $18 to $65.) Want a copy of the police body camera video as a souvenir? That’s up $36 to the new rate of $75 plus an additional $25 deposit.

Thankfully, most of the ongoing recreational programs are unchanged. The same can’t be said of business permits: Annual business licenses are going up. Sign permit reviews are almost double.

Regardless of the increase or decrease in costs, the city’s fees are numerous and complex.

Some fees seek to recover the full cost of the service. Some seek to recover a specific portion (say 16 percent or 40 percent, set by statute or locally.)

It doesn’t look very efficient. It requires numerous fee collection points, which necessitates cash controls and deposit methods. Even the work that goes into setting up 36 pages of fees costs taxpayers some money.

Some fees make obvious sense: Development plans, for example, because they benefit small numbers of people; the same goes for extra water meters and rentals.

The number of other fees can make one question just what all that money in the general fund is used for. If all the interactions between the public and government carry a fee, how much weight does the city’s brag of low and unchanged property tax carry? With its extensive list of fees, the city is in danger of creating perceptions that government service is a transactional relationship. That’s a slippery slope.

The list needs a rethinking. Maybe property tax payers deserve a city waiver of some fees, especially things like swim fees or babysitter training.

Or maybe the city could just say something as simple as the police confirming a car VIN number is free, instead of charging $30.

– Today’s News-Herald

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