Duluth city fees might be on the rise
Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime? Or maybe five or 10 or 20 of them? The Duluth city administration is asking the City Council to increase about 150 of the 523 fees -- or about 30 percent -- it charges each year. But in most cases, those increase...
Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime? Or maybe five or 10 or 20 of them?
The Duluth city administration is asking the City Council to increase about 150 of the 523 fees -- or about 30 percent -- it charges each year. But in most cases, those increases are generally nominal -- ranging from
50 cents more for such services as backflow prevention testing and registration, to $5 more for a Board of Zoning Appeals filing fee, to $10 more to hold a wedding of 300 or more at a city park.
In addition to the small automatic increases, the city also plans to put nine new fees into effect, most of them aimed at reducing the number of false security alarm calls.
The city is proposing to charge owners of security alarms $100 after the third false alarm, $200 for the fourth and increasing $100 for each subsequent false alarm.
Of the nearly 2,389 alarm calls police responded to in 2008, only 11 were legitimate calls, said Police Chief Gordon Ramsay.
"It's the equivalent of having two full-time officers a year respond to alarm calls," Ramsay said. "To continue to plod ahead and not make any changes is insanity."
The owners of local alarm companies spoke in opposition to the false alarm fees during a meeting with city staff this week. To start with, said Tim Davis, operations manager of Peoples Security, all of the alarm companies will be required to give their customer data to a third-party company in Chicago, which will manage the alarm fees for the city.
"We view that information as proprietary," David said. "We can't give that out to third parties."
Under the terms of the ordinance, property owners also would be charged a $20 fee to register their systems with the city and get a permit, which will have to be displayed prominently somewhere on their property, and would have to pay $20 if they don't respond in time to a false alarm. Such requirements might discourage people from buying alarm systems, said Wayne Johnson, president of Great Lakes Alarm.
Ramsay said he was only recently made aware of the security company concerns and his department will work with business owners to find a solution.
"We're not the first city to go down this road," he said.
Some city councilors said they don't see a problem with the array of fee increases included in the city budget.
"When I looked at them, they were small increases, which is reasonable," said City Councilor Jeff Anderson.
But some in the community don't agree -- including the heads of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce, which opposes all city tax and fee increases this year.
"Business is shrinking revenue, not increasing revenue," Chamber public policy director Andy Peterson said. "Everyone should take note and do everything in their power to not increase taxes and fees."
The small automatic fee increases are due to a 2007 council ordinance that tied the fees to the "implicit price deflator," a government ratio that reflects the rate of inflation, which this year is .083 percent.
That ratio is applied to nearly all fees, city Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery said. If the increase is less than a dollar, in most cases the fee is rounded down and kept at the same amount.
Higher-end fees, such as a $400 to $2,400 charge to clean up after a parade will increase between $3 and $20.