Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fees Fees Fees

City leaders are looking to raise fees on everything from rec. center membership to Civic Center rentals.  It's not clear whether Mami Chulas employees will have to pay more per pelvic gyration, or if Juan Narvaez will take a hit from maquinita price hikes.  What concerns me is the way the city is approaching this.  They are staring an $11 million deficit in the face, and they want to act swiftly by handing the public higher fees.  They rationalize this by saying that the new fees would fall in line with what other cities are charging.

But is it really fair to hike up all these different fees drastically so they can balance their budgets?  Is it wise to raise fees uniformly across the board?

Let's look at the garbage collection tax, I mean, fee.  Currently we pay $9 a month; Recycling items are also included in that fee.  The city wants to raise it to $11 this coming fiscal year, and then raise it an additional dollar each year after that for several years, all to be comparable to cities in the valley, and San Antonio.  Let's look at what staff prepared for council in comparing us to the likes of McAllen.

McAllen is a good city to compare ourselves to since their median household income is close to ours, yet they have half the population.  El Paso has an almost identical household income as we do, but we'll get to them later.  In the chart above, staff lists McAllen as charging their residents $15 for garbage pickup.  But that fee is not the whole picture.  McAllen charges its residents depending on the size of their lot.

(Thanks to Amy Smith from the McAllen Public Works Dept. for the information)

McAllen charges according to property size.  Amazing, and progressive, if you ask me.  For recycling, and brush collection, an extra $2 is added for each service.  Instead of charging everybody one fee, like Laredo, they actually take garbage production into account.  Super!  Now let's look at El Paso.

Over the last 18 years, El Paso has raised (and lowered) their collection fees by $3.  Laredo wants to raise our rates by more within the next four years.  El Paso collects residential trash one day out of the week.  Its residents pay way more than we do for garbage collection, but they haven't been hit with a price hike like the one we're facing.

I don't mind fees being created for airport parking, or my fees for garbage going up a bit, but what I do mind is the carefree attitude that the City of Laredo has in balancing budgets.  In their minds, we've been lucky to have had the fees remain low, and we'll just have to adjust to price hikes, no matter how severe they are.  We might be like McAllen, or El Paso, but we're different in that our leaders don't take any cues from them.

Local politicos are so quick to boast about taxes not being raised, but we'll see if they're that eager, and vocal about keeping higher fees at bay. 

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