Santa Paula: Fees and Charges Study

By Sheryl Hamlin

Santa Paula is known as a full-service city without the means to pay for its services, according to former Simi City Manager Mike Sedell, who pointed this out to the city in the FY2015/2016 Budget Review when he conducted the budget reviews. Mr. Sedell said that cities with limited resources often contract rather than trying to staff for every service like Santa Paula does.

With services and fee recovery in mind, the city of Santa Paula contracted with NBS consulting for a User Fee and Charges Study. According to Nicole Kissam, the firm’s methodology has been utilized since the 1970s. They do NOT study taxes, impact fees and/or utility rates for water and/or sewer. They study fees which the city charges for its services.

The term Full Cost Recovery or FCR is the amount that the city spends on providing services, such as water hookups or inspections. The costs include average hourly rates plus benefits (fully burdened) plus administrative costs plus citywide overhead. From this a rate is derived for each department.

There was a philosophical discussion about what the city absorbs versus what it recoups. The absorption rate can be considered the purpose of government while the remainder includes the fees for services.

What Was Studied

The following categories of fees were examined in the NBS Study.

-Administrative Services: Mobile home review services and document certifications

-Finance: Water utility account set up and processing, returned checks, film permit processing

-Planning: Administrative and discretionary application approvals, map review, environmental document review, and other miscellaneous processing fees

-Public Works Engineering services: Support to planning application review, encroachment and utility blanket permits, support to building plan reviews, grading, development inspection, water meter installation services

-Building and Safety: Plan review, processing, and inspection of building permit applications

-Fire services, including: Fire extinguishing and alarm system permits, annual life and safety inspections, support to planning application review and support to building plan review services

-Police: Vehicle towing, impound and release fees, various records release processing fees, fingerprinting services, and filming event fees.

-Community Services – Recreation services, including: Recreation programs, permitting of jolly jumps and special events

What was Learned?

The consultant indicated that the city could recover another $1,115,636 if it raised its fees. The following chart shows where fees could be raised legally. Will fees be raised? Would the city like the money? These are questions for another meeting.

citywide_fcr

What was NOT Studied

The city has been regularly charging the Water and Sewer Enterprises millions of dollars for services rendered, citing billing and accounting. Below is a history of those charges. The rows in blue represent transfers to the General Fund from the Enterprises.

Considering that this is such a significant amount and is considered a fee for service, it is inconceivable why these services were not studied by the consultant. Monies transferred from the Enterprise funds must match the cost of the services to which they are attached per Proposition 218. This question was asked in Public Comments with no response from the consultant or the city as to why the rates for the services provided to the Enterprises where omitted from the statement of work.

When such transfers are made to the General Fund, the enterprises are deprived of funds for their responsibilities: ratepayers (rebates), bondholders (interest) and capital projects (chloride removal and maintenance).

Citizens deserve more transparency than that which has been shown in the Enterprise accounts.

transfers_general_fund

 

This was a special 4:30 meeting untelevised. There may be an audio of the meeting. To watch the rest of the regular meeting, click here. A summary of the NBS report can be downloaded here.

For more information about the author, visit sheryhamlin.com

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