News and notes from around town:
• There’s a 25 cent fee for copies, a $3 fee for notary stamps, a $250 “sex shop” fee, a $150 going-out-of business sale fee, and the list goes on. In total, there are more than 200 fees that are part of the city’s budget, and the city auditor is suggesting that the city put more thought into how it sets those fees. City Auditor Michael Eglinski has released a new audit that recommends the city create a policy that would guide staff members and commissioners in setting fees.
In particular, Eglinski found several instances where it was unclear how the fee charged by the city related to actual costs to the city to provide the service. Out of 10 fees that Eglinski examined in detail, seven of them fell into that category. They include: pedicab licenses, domestic partner registration, golf fees, ambulance fees, municipal court fees, alarm system fees, and tax abatement application fees.
But none of this is to say that the city is overcharging for fees either. Another part of Eglinski’s report randomly selected 20 fees and found that half of the fees hadn’t been adjusted since 1993. Eglinski said that puts the city at risk of having fees that don’t cover the city’s costs and are out of line with what competitors charge. On the flip side, the report said some fees could be too high, if new technology has made it far simpler to provide the service.
City management, though, notes that many fees have been increased lately. The city in recent years has approved increases in cemetery fees, downtown parking fees, Municipal Court fees, and various changes to Parks and Recreation fees. City Manager David Corliss said in the report that he doesn't think there is a lot of opportunity to increase many city fees, especially considering the state controls how high some fees — like liquor licenses — can be set.
A new policy that requires the city to consider costs when setting fees and then periodically reviewing the fee would be help ensure fairness, the report found. In case you’re wondering, the report didn’t find any evidence that the city was charging more fees than other communities. It compared Lawrence to 15 peer communities and found Lawrence’s total fee revenue was right on the group’s average. Corliss said he supports the idea of a new policy, and will likely present a draft policy as part of the city's 2012 budget deliberations. City commissioner will receive the report at their Tuesday meeting.
• What fees are the most likely to bite you? Well, utility fees for water, sewer, and trash, of course. But outside of those major ones, the report lists the top 10 revenue generating fees found in the city’s general fund, recreation fund and golf fund. They are:
- Building permit: $643,605
- Ambulance service: $502,182
- Indoor Aquatic Center: $468,346
- Eagle Bend Green Fees: $438,417
- Parks and Recreation Class Enrollment: $320,173
- Parks and Recreation Adult Sports: $263,434
- Parks and Recreation youth sports: $211,198
- Eagle Bend Golf Carts: $183,487
- Outdoor Aquatic Center: $181,710
- Engineering: $147,230
• There’s one prominent fee that may get waived for a day. City commissioners are being asked to allow motorists to park for free on Massachusetts Street and various downtown side streets on Tuesday, June 14. The request is part of an event being put together by the Lawrence Give Back program. Leaders with the Give Back program — which is owned by The World Company, which operates LJWorld.com — are organizing an event to promote the importance of shopping locally. The event would provide free parking to all customers and shoppers. Those shoppers who use a Give Back card would receive double points and see the charitable donations made through the Give Back program increased on that day.
The Give Back organizers have offered to reimburse the city for lost parking revenue on that day, estimated at $2,500. But city staff members are recommending that the Give Back program use the $2,500 to increase the program’s charitable donations.
If the event is approved, it will be interesting to watch parking patterns that day. Some City Hall leaders have said the reason for metered parking is not so much about revenue as it is to encourage the turnover of parking stalls. It will be a good test of how much tougher parking on Mass. becomes and whether merchants see a net benefit to free parking.
• Add Bob Billings Parkway to the list of major city streets that will be under construction this summer. The city is set to bid a reconstruction of the portion Bob Billings Parkway from Kasold Drive to Crestline Drive. The city only will rebuild the westbound lanes this summer. The project will consist of ripping out all the pavement — the sidewalks and curb and gutter will stay — and replacing it with a new road base and 12 inches of asphalt. Construction is expected to begin in June and last through early August.