Fee Fie Foe Fees

by Mark Scaramella, April 22, 2009

Mendocino County is proposing a sweeping new series of dramatically increased user fees. The County thinks it can make a dent in next year's looming budget deficit, a shortfall estimated at $8 million — or much more.

Even if the increased fees magically became revenue, the County would only get about $1.15 million more in annual income.

The new revenue estimates are based on more than 120 pages of tiny print charts and textual legalese allegedly based on "anticipated units of service."

An anticipated unit of service is fancy talk for a single service rendered.

Here's an example of the labor rates the County bases its new fees on: Animal Control Officer Verdot is listed at his base pay of $18 an hour. Then the County adds fringe benefits at 59%, services and supplies at 22%, and indirect costs at 52% to bring Mr. Verdot's "weighted hourly cost" to $47.45/hour.

In many cases the County also adds time for supervision, and then, on the basis of some extremely dubious math, calculates the proposed fee increase.

One proposed increase is is for "Inceration [sic] of Animal-Cuevas."

It is Mr. Cuevas's responsibility to incinerate dogs and cats. This grisly task supposedly occupies Mr. Cuevas at the rate of one hour per dog or cat. (One at a time?) The County proposes to raise the cost per inceration from $25 to $37.42 which, according to the fee schedule, "involves energy costs, monitoring of furnace temperature, pickup of carcass, and paperwork to be filed with state for operation of furnance [sic]." (Spelling and math errors hardly inspire confidence in the document. Nor do we know who's paying for this.)

All the fee increase proposals end with "I have reviewed the proposed fees and found they do not exceed the cost of service provided. Therefore I recommend their approval. —Edward Collins, Senior Auditor."

The dutiful Mr. Collins rubber-stamped all of them, and there are lots and lots.

Dog licenses (8838 of them!) are going up to $20 per license for neutered dogs, $50 for the 2600 for unneutered dogs. (In anarchical Mendo, these figures seem suspiciously high.)

Animal Control also expects to get more than $100k from increased spay/neuter fees.

Of note to Anderson Valley residents, Boonville dump fees are going up from $4.11 per cubic yard to $9.36 per cubic yard! (With the mysterious caveat: "Hauling cost increase, not including disposal costs," whatever that means.) By comparison, Albion's dump fees are going from $4.58 to $5.51 per cubic yard and Potter Valley is going from $2.46 to $4.59.

In his original proposal, the Sheriff expected to generate an estimated $420,000 in additional revenue next year from a variety of new or increased fees for such things as vehicle and weapon impoundment/storage and release, concealed carry permits (new and renewals), alcoholic beverage license reviews, false alarms, pot eradication and transport, and marijuana plant zip ties.

The Sheriff's Department's fee proposal first says the Department expects to sell 2,000 zip-ties at $70 per zip, thus generating some $140,000 a year from zip-ties alone.

But only last week Sheriff Allman told us he was going to charge $25 per zip-tie and expected to make about $75,000 from zip-tied pot farmers. Until the Sheriff can convince small-scale growers that the zip-ties will truly prevent raids, he'll have a hard time selling them. The Sheriff will have a hard time anyway given the ancient skepticism of pot farmers for law enforcement, especially these days after a winter of raids on mom and pop indoor grows.

The Sheriff also proposes to increase false alarm fees from $25 to $150. Failure to pay would result in no response to burglar alarms. (But would be impractical to track through dispatch.)

The Sheriff said a projected 150 marijuana eradication "events" at $1342 "per event" would produce more than $200,000 in new revenues. In other words, the proprietors of eradicated gardens would fork over $1,342 for having hosted the event which, one suspects, the host would be exceedingly reluctant to pay.

Concealed carry weapon permits would rise from $25 to $45. The Sheriff expects to pass out 800 (count 'em) new and renewed concealed carry permits next year. (San Francisco, with ten times the population, issues less than a dozen.)

You'll have to pay the Sheriff an extra $100 if he has your car towed (plus whatever else). Towed vehicles are estimated to take 70 minutes of deputy time, 10 minutes of dispatcher time, 15 minutes of a sergeant's time and 5 minutes of a staff specialist's time. At an estimated 250 tows per year, tows are expected to generate a quick $25 grand.

The Sheriff-Coroner expects to preside over the removal of 268 corpses from death sites. Survivors will be charged $68 per removal. This ghoulish fee is expected to generate $18k.

Solid waste handling and hauling fees are going way up — $300k more in wholesale franchise fees, garbage fees, demolition fees, and recycle fees. We'll end up paying these too, of course.

Public Health is planning to jack up a full range of food and miscellaneous restaurant fees 6-10% over last year.

The Probation Department expects to rake in almost $50k more in various charges placed on Mendocino County's ever-larger criminal class.

There's a full series of increased fees for local elections which are already very high, including school districts and other small, purely local districts like water districts and community services districts.

It'll now cost special districts $160/hour for a maybe yes/maybe no answer from the County Counsel's office. The typical County Counsel attorney makes $96/hour, while the County Counsel herself, Ms. Nadel, knocks down $169k a year. The other attorneys in her office make between $91k and $102k for dispensing by-the-hour opinions.

A copy of a board meeting audio file (computerized) will cost you $10. (Highly recommended for comic value, if you fast forward a lot.)

A coastal boundary line adjustment is going from $1430 to $1514.

Major use permits for cell towers used to be free, as in $0. They will now cost $91 per tower permit if the proposed fee schedule is adopted, as is almost certain to be.

In spite of a colossal effort to factor in every conceivable cost in calculating the new fees, the County missed a big one: Collection. Fees that have to be paid in advance can't be avoided, of course, but many of the new fees will require billing. And anyone who's tried to do public service billing knows that you're doing well if you get 30% of what you bill. Many have to be written off as uncollectible or turned over to a collection agency at maybe 40¢ on the dollar for whatever the collection buzzards can get.

The County's fantasy fee schedule, still in proposed mode, may make the budget gap look a little smaller, but it's unlikely to help much.

And all this time you thought your property taxes paid for local government.

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