WatchSonoma Watch

County poised to hike hundreds of fees



Sonoma County government is set to raise fees Tuesday for a wide range of services, including park use, law enforcement charges and planning and building permits.

People enjoy the warm weather by walking around Spring Lake Park in Santa Rosa in 2011. (PD FILE, 2011)

Most of the hikes range from the 2.6 percent increase proposed for more than 250 residential and commercial development activities to the roughly 17 percent increase at regional parks, where day-use fees are set to go from $6 to $7.

County transit rates are set to rise by up to 5.8 percent for adult users and up to 12.5 percent for senior and disabled users, while rates for paratransit service are set to rise by up to 9.2 percent.

The county would increase fees for a handful of other services by 20 to 50 percent, add several new fees and eliminate a few others.

The proposals could raise more than $1.5 million across eight departments. They are meant to recover a larger share of the county’s expenses, including a projected rise in employee salary and benefit costs.

The hikes are also to make up for declining support from the county’s main pot of discretionary money, the general fund, which faces a $10.4 million shortfall in the next fiscal year.

The fees encompass everything from youth lifeguard training and septic system checks to fire safety inspections and site visits to proposed vineyard projects.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the fees in a series of afternoon hearings.

The proposals have generated less controversy than annual fee hikes considered by supervisors in the past two years. Those votes were highlighted by opposition to rental hikes for veterans buildings — some as high as 200 percent — and increases in development-related fees, which saw a median hike of 16 percent last year.

Officials said those moves were needed to refresh outdated rate structures. Most increases this year are far less steep and are meant to cover annual cost increases for county government, they said.

“Most of them are just the cost of doing business from one year to the next,” said Chris Thomas, a deputy county administrator.

The costs include rising payroll and pension expenses. Though no county salary increases are called for in the coming 2012-2013 fiscal year, merit-driven pay raises and the end of unpaid furloughs for employees are both expected to boost payroll and pension costs.

The hikes are also to help soften the blow of budget cuts that have strained county services for more than three years now.

An additional $65,000 could flow to the county’s cash-strapped regional parks from the $1 hike in day-use fees, an increase that parks director Caryl Hart defended.

“We believe we’re not making it prohibitively expensive compared to other forms of entertainment,” she said, citing the cost of a trip to the movies or the general $6 toll for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

If approved, the $7 day-use fee would take effect May 1. It was already in place last summer for two regional parks, Spring Lake in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg Memorial Beach. No increase is planned in the annual parks membership, which was bumped up to $69 last year for general admittance.

About $511,000 of the additional fee-based revenue would come from increased charges for roughly 270 development-related activities, including building, code enforcement and engineering oversight.

About 250 of those fees would increase by 2.6 percent; 18 would go up by 4 percent to 50 percent.

Building industry representatives have again taken aim at the increases, which they argue impede recovery of their recession-wracked business.

“This just continues to have a crippling effect on development in the region,” said Doug Hilberman, chairman of the Construction Coalition, an advocacy arm of the North Coast Builders Exchange and the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area.

A separate concern of developers — a proposal to make builders cover county costs during an administrative appeal by opponents — is only expected to affect a “handful of projects” each year, said Pete Parkinson, the county planning director. Most large projects already cover those costs, he said.

Hikes in probation-related fees would account for $535,000 annually, though probation officials signaled they were likely to recover “considerably less” because they depend on the rates judges order and offenders’ ability to pay.

In addition to the increased public transit fees, transportation officials have proposed a $1 hike in airport parking — to a maximum of $12 per day for the short-term lot and $9 per day for the long-term lot — as well as increases in landing fees and rental rates for hangar rentals and terminal building space.

Other departments proposing to raise rates for public and intergovernmental services include the Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Emergency Services, Health Services and the Agricultural Commissioner’s office.

If approved, most new rates would take effect July 1.


20 Responses to “County poised to hike hundreds of fees”

  1. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: Sandra Mehan – “Can’t wait until the GOP is voted out and we get some adults in the state legislature who know you can’t have beautiful parks, good schools and safe roads without taxes.”

    You should spend a little time on ‘Google’ and see which party controls the political office and process. (See Missy’s post; that should be easy enough for you.)

    It’s a little embarrassing to attack Republicans when they don’t hold those respective offices. You should get informed before making such an observation.

    Now for me, I look forward to the day that Democrats no longer have total control, but based on how Californians only vote for politicians with a ‘D’ after their name into office, that’s never going to happen.

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  2. Money Grubber says:

    As someone already correctly stated, the upcoming fee increases and the tax increases requested by Gov Brown are all going to pay for those underfunded public pensions.

    If you believe otherwise, you have been brainwashed by the liars who promised public pensions that could not be sustained through existing taxes.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  3. Michael Sheehan says:

    If park fees genuinely need to be raised from $6 to $7, or even $10, to keep them operating, so be it.

    But I honestly don’t understand the often delusional posts from people like bear, mocking and sandra that blame Prop 13, republicans, tea partiers or the cookie monster for all the ills of society. This is so absurd and uneducated, it’s become a running joke.

    In reality , most tea party people are your neighbors, the people going to work each day who pay (high) taxes, fund the schools, pay for the roads, and do the jobs that keep our country strong. Their biggest concern is with the Federal, State and local governments’ financial mismanagement and inept spending, especially on lavish pension for management types, that is leading us to financial ruin. Consider this: The Federal govt has added $5 trillion in unsustainable debt in the past 3 years alone, while, in contrast, Obama promised to cut the deficit by 50%. Another Big Fat Lie from a tax and spend administration.

    From what I read, tea party people also hate the corruption, cronyism, and wasteful boondoggles often caused by elected officials. To demonize people who have these VERY valid concerns about THEIR government is not only unfair, it’s self-defeating because the coming financial disaster caused by out-of-control government spending will affect everyone, including liberals.

    So before placing your biased blame on phony sources, think about the other real causes of the current mess.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  4. bill says:

    the correct adjustment to the current situation is the reduction of at least 2 cops. not an tax burden on the citizenry.
    just fire two cops.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  5. Hunter says:

    Sounds like the giant sucking sound of pensions to me. Our general fund is projected to be $10.4 million in the red, while we’ve added $15 million in annual interest payements for our latest pension obligation bond. Hmmm.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

  6. Missy says:

    Sandra Mehan says this “. Can’t wait until the GOP is voted out and we get some adults in the state legislature ”

    Uh, what?

    The GOP IS voted out!

    “Statewide constitutional officers
    As of January 10, 2011, Democrats hold all eight elected statewide constitutional offices:

    Governor: Jerry Brown
    Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom
    Secretary of State: Debra Bowen
    State Controller: John Chiang
    State Treasurer: Bill Lockyer
    Attorney General: Kamala Harris
    Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones
    Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson (this office is officially non-partisan and Torlakson was elected as a non-partisan)”

    “State Senate
    Democrats hold a 25-15 edge in the 40-member State Senate at the start of the 2011-2012 session. The Democrats have been the majority party in the Senate continuously since 1956.”

    “State Assembly
    Democrats hold a 52-28 majority in the 80-seat California State Assembly, with one vacancy belonging to a seat recently held by the Republican Party. The Democrats have been the majority party in the Assembly continuously since 1996.”

    Ms. Mehan, you are short on facts. The Democrats hold ALL the cards and have for DECADES.

    The source of the info is here

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 3

  7. Canthisbe says:

    “Proposition 13 isn’t the problem
    When times get tough, the property tax measure comes under attack, but it’s no boogeyman”.

    “Let’s get the facts straight. Despite the cap instituted by Proposition 13, property taxes have increased dramatically in California. According to Board of Equalization data, property tax revenue has increased 800% since the measure passed in 1978 — from $5.6 billion a year to $50 billion. Compare that with general fund revenue — made up largely of sales, income and corporate taxes — which has increased 500% over the same period”.


    “Most Californians would be surprised to learn that 100 percent of education’s share of the tax increase proposed by Governor Jerry Brown will go to pensions instead of classrooms. But that would be no surprise to longtime observers of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which administers teacher pensions.
    Here’s why: After retirement, teachers are unconditionally guaranteed lifetime pensions by their school districts”.


    So, is the problem Prop 13, or is it the pensions?

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 4

  8. Taxpayer says:

    Sandra the democrats and only the democrats are single handedly running the state in to the ground.Too simple.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  9. Follower says:

    The second a “fee” is required to maintain the public park, the park is no longer “public” and should be leased out to a private company. It’s like someone offering to let you drive your own car (for a small fee)!

    Either we all can afford parks or only some of us can. If only some of us can then it isn’t “public” and shouldn’t be supported with A DIME of “public funds”!

    As far as the rest of the “fees”… they are just thinly veiled business taxes.

    If it’s your intent to squeeze every last nickel of profit out of businesses, fine… build more Indian Casinos!

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  10. bear says:

    Dear Welfare Recipients.

    All I hear is “give me services without me having to pay for it.”

    Don’t you whiners have mommies? Perhaps you were deprived of breast feeding, which is why you want it now.

    Perhaps your mommies might object?

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 14

  11. Kirstin says:

    Sandra Mehan, we ARE paying taxes! The question is: what level of taxation is the right level, and what exactly should be done with the taxes we pay. The Democrats don’t want to be responsible and live within reasonable budgetary limits. They want to be free to fund anything and everything that pops into their heads. This is why the Republicans have been putting their collective foot down and refusing to vote for more taxes. When the Democrats grow up and recognize that it is simply not possible to fund every program under the sun and are willing to limit state government laws and authority to areas that it, not local or federal government, is truly meant to oversee, then the two sides will be able to work in harmony. But while the Democrats are unable to set that proper limit, it is appropriate that the other side of the aisle draw the line on further taxes.

    Thumb up 31 Thumb down 4

  12. Commonsense says:

    How are you relating a action by a local Board of Supervisors (which are a majority democratic, if not all democratic) with the State Legislature???
    There is NO republican majority in this State (it’s safely Blue), so you need to look elsewhere to blame….
    The current state of California is something both the State democrats, republicans, green party, etc have earned. If you want it changed vote for someone other then the status quo and participate in the process.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 4

  13. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    THIS is blowback from Prop 13 where corporations got and continue to get huge property tax breaks, and homeowners pay different rates depending on when and how long they are in their homes. The property taxes paid has shifted from businesses to homeowners since prop 13 came into existance. Before prop 13 total business property tax revenue was much more than total homeowner property tax revenue.

    Prop 13 also affected our schools’ funding. It shifted a lot of local control to state control.

    So the middleclass and poor have to pay more in fees. We all get levied more local and state taxes, parcel taxes and regressive taxes like sales taxes. Prop 13 is the reason we have all of these shopping centers. All of it to make up for the loss of property taxes from prop 13.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 24

  14. GAJ says:

    Sandra, so it was Republicans who created our crushing debt load and raft of unfunded liabilities for government employees?

    You did see this in the article, right?

    “The proposals could raise more than $1.5 million across eight departments. They are meant to recover a larger share of the county’s expenses, including a projected rise in employee salary and benefit costs.”

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 10

  15. Skippy says:

    This is what happens when you have Democrats in Ca who have pledged their loyalty to Barack Obama and refuse to lower spending or face reality EVER.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 8

  16. Sandra Mehan says:

    This is what happens when you have Republicans in Ca who have pledged their loyalty to Grover Norquist and refuse to raise taxes EVER. Money has to come from somewhere. It’s a shame the GOP is so deluded that they’d rather run our beautiful state in to the ground than pay for upkeep and services. Can’t wait until the GOP is voted out and we get some adults in the state legislature who know you can’t have beautiful parks, good schools and safe roads without taxes. Bring back the Golden State vote out the GOP!

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 26

  17. Corn Fused says:

    I’m generally not for increasing fees with that said why the heck would you raise the fee’s for seniors and disabled folks 100% more than adult users?

    That really stinks!

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 4

  18. Grapevines says:

    Charging more and delivering less. Just what we expect out of this dismal and completely worthless Board of Supervisors.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 8

  19. GAJ says:

    J.R., what, I suppose you expect them to cut the pay and bennies for the upper tiers of government starting with the $240,000 packages enjoyed by our esteemed and overworked Board of Supervisors?

    That would be crazy, far better to hike fees for “County transit…up to 12.5 percent for senior and disabled users, while rates for paratransit service are set to rise by up to 9.2 percent.”

    The old and disabled can surely handle some sacrifice to spare the upper tiers of County employees.

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 5

  20. J.R. Wirth says:

    Why would they act any differently? The county is a closed environment with a one party system. The politicians here have no natural checks. They can do as they please, and they do. The mind numbed hippies who live here will keep voting for them. No one asks,hey, what am I getting for my money here? Not one service will be improved, not one bike path will be maintained.

    Thumb up 34 Thumb down 9

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