Archive for Friday, June 12, 2009

Fee fairness

Fees and increased fines being considered by Lawrence city officials are a reasonable way to ease the city budget crunch.

June 12, 2009

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Like local property taxes, Lawrence residents will be paying the bulk of the new fees being proposed by the city staff, but at least those fees will be paid by the people who actually use the services they will help fund.

Parks and recreation officials seem to be zeroing in on a sane approach to increased fees. The two new fees they are recommending are $1 per child at the South Park Wading Pool and $1 for adults and 50 cents for children 5 to 12 at the Prairie Park Nature Center, with an optional $40 annual family pass for frequent visitors. Neither of those fees should cause an undue hardship for local residents using those facilities.

They won’t recommend increased fees for the city’s aquatic centers, which are high enough already to discourage some families. They also won’t add fees to use the city’s recreation centers, meaning those facilities still will be available to local youngsters at no charge. After determining that the suggested fees to use weight and cardio rooms in local recreation centers probably wouldn’t cover the cost of the key card system needed to enforce the fee, they wisely dropped that idea.

Seeking donations or sponsors to offset the cost of summer band concerts is a good idea, and selling advertising at some ballparks and other facilities is fine — within reason.

Parking fees and fines also are likely to go up, along with some traffic fines. At $3 a pop, parking tickets still would be far below average. Enforcing meters until 6 p.m., instead of the current 5 p.m., shouldn’t be a problem. Cutting the maximum time on Massachusetts Street meters from two hours to 90 minutes doesn’t make much sense. It only encourages people to leave downtown sooner — or simply shop elsewhere in the first place — without providing any additional revenue.

Charging people slightly more for speeding tickets and other traffic offenses is fair. Maybe the higher fines will be more of a deterrent for would-be offenders. If not, the city will happily take their money.

Tight economic times have prompted city officials to get a little more creative in the ways they fund city services. Raising fines and charging additional fees may not be a popular move, but because these essentially are user fees for city services, including municipal court, they are a fairer way to collect funds than to simply raise general tax levies.

Comments

gr 5 years, 11 months ago

"but at least those fees will be paid by the people who actually use the services they will help fund."

So how about making it so the rest of us pay no fees (taxes) to support those services we don't use? And I'm not talking about fire and police but about wading pools, aquatic centers, and tennis courts.

"Tight economic times have prompted city officials to get a little more creative in the ways they fund city services."

Is someone going to keep track of this so when economic times rebound, we will hear city officials lowering fees to reduce the surplus?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

The city commission is busy adding more to the cost of living with most every decision, with each new street,house,water and sewer lines, new intersections with traffic lights etc etc. Where does the money come from? US the taxpayer.

Basically all new infrastructure is a tax increase and what usually follows is many things that do not pay for themselves such as homes, an over saturated retail market etc etc. Over saturated retail markets are unfriendly to business.

New roads bring a host of tax increases....something to keep in mind.

Our city's current budget crunch could easily be tied directly to infrastructure expenses needed to serve new housing developments. The community is way over extended in this regard.

If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we would not be in a budget crunch. But with increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential housing does not pay for the services, they require from a municipality. Simply put new homes do not pay back the tax revenue cookie jars.

New water and sewer lines come from the general fund revenue paid by each taxpayer in the city. The old east sides of town are subsidizing the growth caused by the development in the south,west and northwest parts of town. What's up with that? Shouldn't this growth be funding itself?

An overloaded residential market not only is unfriendly to home values it is artificial economic growth aka bedroom community which does not pay for itself.

Impact fees and excise taxes are legal. Either of these would probably have provided the community with extra revenue instead of taxpayers making up the difference.

In order for the city to have orderly growth, developers need to be responsible for all new infrastructure and pass that on to new home buyers. Most builders understand impact fees or excise taxes are for a purpose that improves their big profit making developments.

Additional Tax Increasers consist of: Additional Neighborhoods $88 million sewage treatment plant,which in and of itself increases the cost of community services water and sewer lines streets and repairs houses public schools public transportation services fire stations law enforcement manpower sidewalks snow removal bike trails and cross walks Traffic signals Traffic calming developers requesting more tax dollar assistance(new infrastructure) for their warehouses and retail strip malls. In general increases the cost of community services to all taxpayers.

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

I agree that charging the actual user of a service more rather than charging all of us more is a good solution. We might seek to broaden that notion.

Charging more to park downtown (to include fines), however, seems to be counter-productive to our efforts to encourage people other than students to come to downtown. Is our left hand working with our right hand?

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

merrill (Anonymous) says…

You know sometimes your comments are pure emotion. Do you have any facts to support that much of the increase in our taxes are tied to growth?

I think it would be most instructive to examine the growth in our social service contributions (broad definition) to see if that element might be contributing disproportionately to the growth in our taxes?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Taxpayers are responsible for maintenance of infrastructure once it is installed so the budget must reflect that probability.

Bedroom communities lack the good jobs to keep money in that respective community to support the demands on services. Bedroom communities demand high taxes.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Donovan Scruggs, Ocean Springs director of community development and planning, said the city's current budget. crunch can be tied directly to infrastructure expenses needed to serve new housing developments.

"If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we would not be in a budget crunch," Scruggs said. "But with increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by single-family housing does not pay for the services, they require from a municipality."

Scruggs said there have been two studies done on impact fees. One 100-page study was on services for police and fire protection, administration and parks. A second study was done on infrastructure related impacts on roads, water and water.

The current proposal calls for the fees to be collected separately.

"We want. to make sure we tie the fees as closely as possible to when the demand is being generated," Scruggs said. "Water and sewer fees would be collected when the subdivision is constructed. Services more related to occupancy and homes being constructed would be collected later. For example, no one will have a need for a park until there are kids in that neighborhood."

While developers pay for onsite water, sewer and road infrastructure, Scruggs said it is costly to pay for offsite upgrades needed, such as enlarging lift stations and raising water towers.

"Now if we have to upgrade a lift station, it is paid for by the general fund revenue paid by each taxpayer in the city," Scruggs said. "Someone on the west side of town would have to pay for subsidizing the growth in demand caused by the development in the east part of town."

The eastern part of town is where the greatest residential growth is being seen. Scruggs said there has been so much growth in recent years that the city has to elevate its water towers to keep pressure at adequate levels. "That was a direct result caused by the growth," he said.

Scruggs said that impact fees are legal if they are done properly.

"Madison's impact fee program had problems," Scruggs said. "Ours will not have those problems. It can be done right."

Ocean Springs had 120 homes constructed in 2000, 90 in 2001 and is on track to have 120 homes constructed in 2002. If impact fees had been collected on the 310 homes built in three years, the city would have extra revenues of about $2.1 million.

In order for the city to have orderly growth, developers need to be responsible for a certain amount of the infrastructure. Most builders understand impact fees are for a purpose that improves their development."

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Subsidizing the real estate /development community expands their wealth but not across the board. In fact it impacts most taxpayers this way: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/jun...

How? This story explains a lot: http://www.democracynow.org/2008/1/18/free_lunch_how_the_wealthiest_americans

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Public transportation is necessary as a high number of the population also agreed. Air,bus and train aka public transportation travel do not in fact pay for themselves according to what I read. Neither does automobile travel for that matter.

In fact auto travel is the least efficient of all because the greater number vehicles transport one person the majority of the time. It requires a ton of tax dollars to support auto travel.

Some on here think nothing about blowing more than $200,000,000(million) for an obsolete trafficway plan that is about convenience and will subsidiize developers = depleting the net worth of taxpayers.

Motorcycles,motor scooters,walking and bicycles are by far the most efficient modes of travel. They also do not tear up roads like cars and trucks thus saving milions upon millions upon millions in road repairs.

The T save millions and millions in road repairs by eliminating cars and trucks from the road surface as well. Public transporation is far more efficient due to the number of vehicles it removes from the roads plus the 30-50 passengers they can transport.

Cars require snow removal,salt,parking meters,parking lots,parking garages,traffic law enforcement,police cars,municiple courts,stop signs, million dollar traffic lights, ambulance service for accidents etc etc etc. = tons and tons of tax dollars.

The people were given the opportunity to vote on the T tax increase so not why allow taxpayers to vote on all tax increasing projects? Such as all new roads,neighborhoods, retail projects and light industrial projects.

Why are we expected to donate our tax dollars when the end result is net loss in our individual net worth? = less expendable cash to support the community.

gl0ck0wn3r 5 years, 11 months ago

"Richard "off my OCD medicine" Heckler (Anonymous) babbled… The T save millions and millions in road repairs by eliminating cars and trucks from the road surface as well. Public transporation is far more efficient due to the number of vehicles it removes from the roads plus the 30-50 passengers they can transport."

On what planet do you live? The T has never, ever statistically carried anywhere close to 30 passengers per bus. Oh and this is an interesting read:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090608/sc_afp/climatewarmingtransportcarbonlifestyle

I find it fascinating that Richard's brand of economics - Hecklernomics - includes taxes on the poor for projects that Richard advocates (the T, roundabouts etc.) but the same is not true when a tax or fee funds something Richard does not like. One does not have to look hard to see the selfishness implicit in many of Richard's arguments. As an example: Richard is against road work unless that road work upgrades his neighborhood.

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

merrill (Anonymous) says…

Donovan Scruggs, Ocean Springs director of community development

might there be some facts to back this up? I can emote too but it will gain us little understanding.

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

merrill (Anonymous) says…

"Bedroom communities lack the good jobs to keep money in that respective community to support the demands on services. Bedroom communities demand high taxes."

I don't know about you but KU sure does provide a lot of jobs right here in lawrence - in some cases drawing reverse "bedroom" activity.

Don't the people that live here pay taxes here. My property tax is higher than it has been anywhere else in this country that I have lived. See comment on single family homes not paying their fair share.

Where is the data that says we are just a bedroom community?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

People who do not support growth that cannot pay for itself and do not support flooded residential and retail markets which are business and property owner unfriendly ARE NOT against sensible economic growth that which pays for itself and does not increase taxes and user fees to cover the cost of expansion.

Stephen Roberts 5 years, 11 months ago

Richard Heckler (Merrill) hasn't seen a fee or tax that he doesn't like like as long as he doesn't have to pay it.

That is a huge problem with Lawrence, too many Richards and not enough people paying taxes and fees.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Is it time to impose a long cooling off period on development?

Watching the market work and fail to correct itself.

Too often our elected officials subscribe to the false notion that all construction is good. They adhere to the "build it and they will come" theory of real estate development.

This theory falsely holds the new supply creates demand. One need only look around Lawrence to see the error in this type of thinking. We have empty homes, apartments, retail stores, and offices throughout the community. In fact, demand ebbs and flows; the supply that can be supported is not a function of what we build but of the amount of demand that exists in the community.

The success of our real estate markets depends upon us keeping the supply in balance with the demand.

Why is this? The development industry is not good at pacing itself; it is prone to overbuilding. When it overbuilds, the taxpayers suffer.

We pay for the roads, utilities, plus police and fire protection for these excess developments. Example: Since 2000, the developers built over 3,200 home more homes than the population growth would support. The only good thing that you can say for the current credit market freeze is that it called a halt to the overbuilding spree.

We also suffer from the blight created by the reduced value to the neighborhoods surrounding the empty space. Example: North Lawrence is hurt by the blighting effect of the dead Tanger Mall.

We all lose directly through lost investment in redevelopment plans. Example: The empty $8 million parking garage in the 800 block of New Hampshire Street. The City built the garage on the promise that a developer would redevelop the surrounding area in mixed-use buildings. All that was built was the small building that contains PepperJax. The rest of the development was halted by the overbuilding that created too much competing space, mostly in the west side of town.

We lose indirectly through the diminished efforts to redevelop our downtown. Examples: The Hobbs-Taylor Building is unable to attract retail tenants and the redeveloped 600 block of Massachusetts Street has vacancies. These two attractive developments should be the most valuable space in town. Unfortunately, the City has done its best to hurt these investments in our downtown by approving excessive amounts of competing retail space elsewhere, more space than the spending in Lawrence will support.

Two quick facts show the pace of the overbuilding:

  1. From 2000 through 2007, the builders built 800 homes per year when the population added only 400 households per year. Over and eight-year period, this was about 3,200 surplus homes.

  2. From 2000 through 2007, the builders built over 160,000 square feet of retail space per year when the growth in retail spending would support only 50,000 square feet per year.

This shows that the construction industry was vastly oversized, and we are now paying for it.

Kirk McClure Feb 2009

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

We need a City Commission that will keep the construction industry in check. It is not that hard to keep the pace of growth of housing in line with the growth of population.

The City simply needs to plan for the pace of growth, approving only as many subdivisions as are really needed. It is not that hard to keep the pace of growth of retail space in line with the growth in retail spending.

The City simply needs to pace the growth, approving only as many new shopping centers as the growth in retail spending will support.

This has been made harder by the current City Commission’s excessive allegiance to developers. The City Commission has approved virtually every development approval brought before it when the market analysis told it that the city could not absorb all of the new space without harming existing developments.

Because of this excessive amount of space both recently built and under construction, the city needs a long cooling off period.

The economic recession is having some positive effect in that is it slowed down the building spree. However, recession is too crude a tool for this job.

The City Commission should have managed the pace of growth in real estate, keeping it in line with the growth in demand for that real estate.

Having failed to do that, we must now recognize that it will be a long time before we will need any significant additions to the supply. We have too many single-family homes. We have too many apartments. We have too many retail stores. We must wait for the demand to absorb this space before adding to this damaging oversupply.

If we fail to impose a cooling off period, the development industry will only repeat its mistakes as soon as the recession bottoms out and credit markets thaw.

We should learn from out mistakes and prevent future cycles of overbuilding. It is what good planning and good growth management is all about.

Kirk McClure Feb 2009

Professor Graduate Program in Urban Planning University of Kansas Ph. D., Urban Planning, University of California at Berkeley, 1985; Master of City Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1978; Bachelor of Arts, Urban Studies, University of Kansas, 1974; Bachelor of Architecture, University of Kansas, 1973.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How do we ensure retail survival?

The editorial on retail survival (Lawrence Journal World, January 7, 2007) correctly identifies the problem but misidentifies the solution. Lawrence, and especially downtown Lawrence, confronts a problem with a surplus of retail space. As you say, “demand has slowed”. Population growth has slowed as has income growth. This leads to lower growth in retail spending, the engine that drives demand for retail space. Unfortunately, growth in the supply of retail space has continued at an unsustainable pace, leaving the city pock marked with vacant and, in some cases, blighted shopping centers.

You suggest that, as downtown competes with this surplus of retail space elsewhere in the city, that it “meet that competition head-on”. Experience in many other markets tells us that this is a prescription for failure. If more space is built than can be supported, competition will pick some winners and leave some losers to deteriorate.

The community will be left with the blighting influence of the failed space. Topeka is a nearby example; both its downtown and its White Lakes Mall sit largely empty and blighted because of overbuilding elsewhere.

Lawrence can overbuild and let competition pick the winners leaving the city to suffer with the deteriorated losers. Alternatively, Lawrence can be smart and limit the growth in retail space, keeping it in line with the pace of growth in retail demand. Stores will be occupied, and downtown can thrive rather than just survive.

The market left to itself is not smart enough to pace its own growth; it is prone to overbuilding.

Planning for balanced growth is an essential function of local government if the city is to protect the retail centers it already has and is to prevent the blighting influence of surplus growth.

Kirk McClure

Professor Graduate Program in Urban Planning University of Kansas Ph. D., Urban Planning, University of California at Berkeley, 1985; Master of City Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1978; Bachelor of Arts, Urban Studies, University of Kansas, 1974; Bachelor of Architecture, University of Kansas, 1973.

Stephen Roberts 5 years, 11 months ago

Richard- please stop citing McClure. For me just because he teaches at KU does not mean a thing to me. Sorry.

If I wanted an expert on mowing grass, I would not go to KU to find a professor, I would go out and find some one who gets paid by other people (not by the taxpayers).

If you don't like the fees, don't go.

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

Richard,

Somebody told me you are a "slum lord". One factor in freezing growth is exisiting housing stocks increase in value. Could that have something to do with your motives?

Are we really overbuilt in single family homes? Do you have any hard data that suggests that. If not then people are buying the homes built. Where is the problem?

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