To help fix a projected $4 million budget deficit this year in the city's $88 million general fund, the city will likely be asking those who use city services to pay more for them. City staffers have proposed dozens of new fees or fee hikes for construction-related permits, heritage tree removal, use of the city's performing arts center and $600,000 in various recreation fees.
All told, the proposed fees could provide $900,000 to $1.2 million in new general fund revenue annually if approved in the city budget in June.
The city hopes to patch the rest of the deficit with $1 million in employee compensation cost cuts and $2 million in other budget cuts, including the elimination of 24 filled employee positions.
Some council members expressed frustration at having to "nickel and dime" the public to fix the city budget, including Mike Kasperzak, who called it unpleasant. Council members say they have their hands largely tied this year in terms of cutting the city's fastest-growing expense: union-contracted cost-of-living adjustments, health care costs and pensions for city employees, which altogether are rising by about $4 million a year.
Going against recommendations from city staffers, council members voted 5-2 to have the city begin studying a new parking fee at Shoreline Park, which council member Laura Macias said could generate $300,000 a year.
"We have the potential for significantly increasing revenue" at Shoreline, Macias said. "People are using Shoreline Park completely free. That seems unusual to me."
City staffers had recommended against it because of the difficulty in studying possible impacts on businesses in the park such as Michaels at Shoreline. Kasperzak and council member John Inks opposed the idea.
"It would most definitely adversely affect our small businesses there," said Christina Ferrari, president of Silicon Shores, which runs the lakeside cafe and boat rentals at Shoreline Park. "Paying a $5 entrance fee to get a sandwich would be unrealistic. People would be less likely to use the facility."
City staff had also recommended against looking at revenue from new downtown parking fees because of possible impacts on downtown businesses, but council members Margaret Abe-Koga and Mayor Ronit Bryant disagreed, saying it is common in nearby cities and would encourage people to walk and bike.
Finding it difficult to continue to heavily subsidize recreation programs, city staffers ranked recreation programs in terms of "community benefit" versus "individual benefit." Senior and teen programs were largely left out of proposed fee hikes, but youth summer camps and programs targeting adults were chosen to cover 122 percent of operating costs (fee waivers are available for low income people).
In the case of Deer Hollow Farm summer camps, which cost the city $107,000 a year, proposed fees were about doubled to create $66,000 in new revenue. New fees for swim programs would create almost $150,000 in new revenue.
The proposed recreation fee hikes include, but are not limited to:
• Los Altos-Mountain View Aquatics Club fee: increases from $0 to $76 an hour ($49,400 in new revenue)
• Lap swim day pass for residents: increases from $3 to $5 ($47,416 in new revenue)
• Elementary school camps: increases from $2.50 to $5.87 an hour ($61,000 in new revenue)
• Family reservation of barbecue area: increases from $5 to $15 per table
• Indoor basketball court rental fee: increases from $70 to $111 an hour (various gym rental fee increases total $120,000 a year)
• Community garden plot: increases from $41 to $135 a year
• McKelvey ball field rental, with lights: increases from $57.75 to $70 an hour.
While city staffers had compared the city's recreation fees to other cities and found many were "below market rate," no comparison was made to private recreation providers such as the YMCA. Council member Kasperzak even suggested the city look at having the YMCA run certain recreation programs for the city, as other cities have done during budget cuts.
City staff said the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts currently produces enough revenue to cover only 78 percent of its operating costs and is budgeted to receive $844,000 from the city's general fund this year. The city reports that the top 25 performing arts centers in the country average 72 percent cost recovery.
Proposed fees for the MVCPA, totaling a $36,500 annual increase, include:
• New fees for the purchase of online tickets: increases by 50 cents per ticket and $2 per transaction
•Base fee for a nonprofit theater company to hold a performance: increases from $1,050 to $1,500 for weekends and from $1,350 to $1,800 for weekdays.
Forestry, planning and public works
In other city departments, proposed fee hikes would produce $40,000 a year for the Forestry Department and $55,000 each for Planning and Public Works. The proposed fees include, but are not limited to:
•New fee for removing heritage trees: increases from $0 to $95
• Appeal against heritage tree: increases from $15 to $300
• Conditional use permits: increases from $1,929 to $3,858
• Child care center conditional use permit: increases from $135 to $1,827
• Historic preservation permit: increases from $0 to $544
• Sidewalk cafe permit, which is common on Castro Street: increases from $498 to $747
• Excavation permit: increases from $115 to $211 (would produce $43,000 annually)
• Lot line adjustment: increases from $1,759 to $2,259
• Residential sidewalk permit: increases from $128 to $168.
The heritage tree fees were met with concern from council members, who said a hit of nearly $100 would prevent some people from removing dangerous trees, while the $300 protest fee would discourage them from protecting healthy old trees. Mayor Bryant applauded the fee on heritage tree removal as a protection for old trees.
Kasperzak expressed frustration with the new $544 historic preservation permit, noting the long fight just to have property owners voluntarily apply for historic status for their buildings. City staffers noted that a new state law makes historic status a requirement for some properties.
City staff said they had been working with a consultant to find up to $350,000 in untapped Police Department revenue. Police chief Scott Vermeer said those revenues would largely come from higher fines for repeated responses to "false alarms" sent by commercial building alarm systems, higher fees for records requests from other government agencies and higher fees for towed vehicles. The potential police service fees have yet to be presented in detail but were included in the total proposed new revenue of $900,000 to $1.2 million.