Monday, May 2, 2016

City sets new fees for street closings, banners
Posted on Dec. 19, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Want to hang a banner over Main Street or close a street for a party? Or use water at an event on the city’s downtown plaza?

Beginning in January, it will cost you.

In May, Mayor Dick Moore warned that officials would look at new fees in the midst of the on-going budget crunch.

On Tuesday, the board of public works approved a series of new fees Tuesday morning.

It marks the first of what could be two rounds of new fees as city leaders cope with less than expected tax revenues in recent years as a result of state-mandated tax caps.

The changes include: $25 for street closures, $50 for water use on the downtown plaza, $25 for revocable permits such as requests to do work in a public right of way, $50 for emergency management at an event, $95 for a bridge banner, $175 for a Main Street banner and $85 for a banner spanning the Benham Avenue Bridge.

In a letter to the board of works, Moore explained the circumstances for establishing the fees: “In effort to continue to maintain the quality level of city services made available to our public and to provide cultural and recreational opportunities, the time has come that a charge will have to be incurred for permits.”

Arvis Dawson, assistant to the mayor, said the fees represent a share of the cost of providing the service. Much of that involves wages, wear and tear on vehicles and fuel costs.

Dawson and fellow board of works representative Andrew Carter worked to determine costs associated with the services and then sent those estimates to the mayor who developed the fee rates.

For many of the services, the fee represents less than half of the cost, Dawson said.

Moore first announced plans to study the existing fee structure in May when the city realized property tax revenues would be less than expected.

Dawson said the policy does not make exceptions for groups, but the fees won’t apply to vendors at Elkhart Jazz Fest because they already pay a fee.

Dawson said the move is less about generating new revenues and more about offsetting the costs associated with services.

City officials are studying other fees that Moore will likely consider after the first of the year. Those include adjusting the existing fee for building permits, a surcharge for moving violations such as speeding; a new fee for inspections police do involving wrecked or damaged vehicles and a booking fee for anyone held at the city jail.

Moore also sought to establish a trash fee ordinance earlier this year, but that was rejected by city council in a 5-4 vote.

The mayor and city council then agreed to cut the 2013 budget by $1.9 million. The mayor vetoed another effort by some council members to cut another $429,000.

In other matters, the board voted to provide two entities 24 months to pay off billing for water services that had not been calculated correctly in recent years.

The city’s public works department is seeking $18,528 from Greenleaf Condo Association and $1,719 from Conn-Selmer Inc.

The error occurred in a transition in data from a third party vendor to in-house software system, but the problem was not identified until this year while new reading devices were being installed d on customer’s meter readers.

The miscalculations resulted in a significant decrease in monthly bills, which the customers should have noticed and questioned, officials said.

Representatives from Selmer and Greenleaf both asked the city to drop the billing request.

In a letter to the city, Andy McGrail, representing Conn-Selmer, told the utility department: “We are at the mercy of Elkhart Public Utilities to accurately read (or contract out to read) the meters measuring usage. We have no control over or say so in the methodology used to determine accurate readings, the outside contractors utilized or your internal labor resources.”

McGrail told the board of works his role in monitoring bills began after the change so he was not familiar with past billing patterns.

City policy allows for back billing for under-reported readings and Arvis Dawson, a member of the board of works, pointed out that the customers should have noticed a difference that extended for several years.

Conn-Selmer immediately appealed Tuesday’s decision, but the board denied the appeal in a 4-0 vote.

Despite the errors, the responsibility of the payment should fall with those who use the service, Dawson said.

“We are stewards of the taxpayer’s dollar,” Dawson said. “While the administration truly appreciates the (presence) of Conn-Selmer, we have to look out for the best interests of the taxpayers.”