Menlo Park proposes higher fees, new fees

Community services see most increases

Spring is in the air, which means local governments start hunting for ways to whip their budgets into shape for the next fiscal year. The annual city fee adjustment debate begins March 27, when the City Council reviews new proposed price tags for various services.

Perennial budget adjustment favorites -- child care services, recreational programs, and facility rentals -- would see the most increases.

Fees at the Menlo Children's Center and Belle Haven's Child Development Center would go up 3 to 8 percent, with new charges for seasonal programs, kindergarten preparation, and miscellaneous items such as late pickups.

A Menlo Park family with one child going to Belle Haven's preschool program, for example, would now pay $854 a month. If that child is a toddler, an entirely new monthly fee of $1,086 would apply.

Having a ball

Celebrating a birthday at the Arillaga Family Gymnastics Center, after it opens in April, would cost 42 percent more than it did at the old facility, jumping from $123 to $175 for up to 20 children. So will renting space at the facility; city staff recommended implementing new charges of $35 to $200 per hour, depending on which room, with non-residents paying higher rates than residents. Renting Bedwell Bayfront Park for a day would cost $100.

The after-school volleyball program would cost $517 for residents, an increase of 15 percent. Basketball would go up 5 percent, while gymnastics classes would cost 4 to 6 percent more depending on how many hours a week a child attends. Adult sports programs would also see a modest 3 to 5 percent increase.

Recent rumors confirm that sometimes people go the library after visiting the gym. Let's hope they take care of the library books. Staff wants to replace the $10 maximum charge for damaged materials with the actual cost of replacement, plus a $5 service fee.

Permits, building costs

Sometimes Menlo Park developers want to chop down heritage trees or appeal traffic-impact fees. Staff has suggested charging $25 to $50 more for doing so.

Raising fees for plan review of projects as small as 250 square feet has already drawn fire. Henry Riggs, an architect who serves on the Planning Commission, asked the city to concentrate on cutting red tape instead by reducing the amount of time needed for inspections and approvals.

"I have two concerns that we are discouraging compliance in two key desired areas by further burdening minor residential projects which are already heavily burdened by fees. As it is, all too many home owners are driven to 'after hours' work to avoid these fees, resulting in unlicensed and un-inspected work in our city," Mr. Riggs wrote in an email to the council on March 22.

He told the Almanac that while some feel the cost and time of reviews isn't out of proportion, project costs are pressing the limits of what even two-income households can afford, and added fees may be the "straw that broke the camel's back."

Each project is different, Mr. Riggs said, and his issue with the changes, which add up to relatively small dollar amounts, isn't the total cost, but that it's one more nudge for small projects to dodge the permitting process and for others to get cancelled.

Once plans and permits get the green light, construction can start -- but that generates debris. City staff would like to hike the cost of making sure disposal occurs in compliance with code by 100 percent to $300.

Staff expects the fee changes, if approved, to add $177,172 a year to city coffers. The council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.

Review the staff report here.


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