The City of Turlock’s Engineering Division is operating in the red — and has been for a while. In an effort to recoup more of the actual costs of running the department that is responsible for all the City’s capital improvement projects along with inspection services for the general public, the City Council voted on May 8 to adopt a new fee program for Engineering services.
The fee restructuring plan is only expected to reach 59 percent of actual costs, however, causing the Council to dip into dwindling General Fund to make up the difference at an expected cost of $500,000 a year.
The Council voted 4-1 to adopt the fee program, with Council member Amy Bublak dissenting.
“My concern is that we’re sitting here and we’re about to discuss a budget needs a lot of things and we’re still planning to fail. I want to encourage building, but if we’re not taking care of our costs — we’re not even close — I’m not comfortable with it,” said Bublak.
Council member Bill DeHart said that the City is trying to do a “delicate dance” of encouraging development while also recouping as much of the actual cost of services as possible.
As an enterprise fund, the Engineering Division is intended to be a self-supporting department. However, the department has had difficulty achieving financial independence for the past several years and has a current $2.5 million deficit.
A recent fee structure study done by NBS found that the Engineering Division currently recovers approximately 21 percent of the costs associated with providing fee-related services.
Because a flat fee increase of close to 80 percent would be “unpalatable” for many developers and the general public, a program was created that reduces the fees for certain services, increases fees for other services and creates a number of brand new fees.
“The City has policies put into place to have the purpose to be friendly to development, however, that still means that new development should pay its fair share,” said Director of Development Services/City Engineer Nathan Bray. “The fees are structured on a cost recovery basis, with certain fees proposed to be artificially lowered to achieve compliance, encourage development opportunities and also be palatable.”
Areas that will see artificially reduced fees are Building Permit Reviews, Grading and Encroachment Permits, Sidewalk Permit, Predevelopment Meetings and Development Fee Estimates.
Some of the new fees include for Grading Inspection with rates starting at $172 for 25 to 1,000 cubic yards moved up to $3,857 for 200,0001 or more cubic yards moved. There’s also a new $200 fee for a Minor Encroachment Permit for Driveway/Sidewalk only and a new $1,791 fee for an Improvement Plan Application review.
All cost of service calculations in the new fee program assume a fully burdened hourly rate of $131 for Engineering services.
The new fees went into effect immediately. The City will also start an annual increase of the base rate for fees charged based on the San Francisco-Oakland Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers.
“When we first starting talking about this just a little awhile ago and the $2.5 million, we talked about the alternatives. And while the $2.5 million is extremely disappointing, because obviously we’d like to recover all fees, we’d also like to encourage development, we’re trying to encourage our builders and developers to stay in Turlock and choose Turlock…This is one step in trying to stop the issue,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth.