October 1, 2013 > Fees, Taxes and Service Charges
Fees, Taxes and Service Charges
In government, it is often difficult to keep up with rising costs of personnel and materials without tacking on additional costs - fees, taxes and service charges - to residents, visitors and local businesses. A recent discussion by the Hayward City Council regarding fees proposed for establishments serving alcoholic beverages created an interesting dialogue. Staff proposed a fee schedule that balanced income, management and service costs. Unfortunately, the mathematical solution was difficult to defend when social factors were introduced. Primarily, how do you reward ÒresponsibleÓ businesses and penalize others who require additional policing and subvert City growth potential, encouraging dangerous and unhealthy environments? Basic service costs including staff, enforcement and administration must support a system of governance. Who is responsible for the necessary base income?
Hayward is also considering a new and badly needed community health center adjacent to a Fire Station #7 and a Ò21st Century Library.Ó All laudable goals, but funds to make them a reality are, so far, missing. When politicians raise expectations, the source of funds to achieve them should also be identified. Much of what is discussed at some meetings are details without equal attention focused on revenue. I believe in grand ideas and lofty community visions, but traveling side-by-side with the dreamers, we need public and private tacticians, and City staff to make it happen. Raising hope and anticipation without a concomitant action plan can end in disappointment and disaffection. Our leaders in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento have proven this over and over, sinking to new lows in public respect and recognized accomplishment.
As our communities enter an era of growth (if Washington and Sacramento bureaucrats donÕt sink our country in a morass of mediocrity and ineptitude) many traditional municipal methods of raising funds may be challenged. For instance, gas taxes have been a stable source of income, swiped by the State during the past fiscal crisis, but with the emergency of hybrid and electric vehicles, alternatives must be found. Infrastructure requirements of roads and bridges remain, but traditional sources of revenue are declining. Is it fair to place the majority of tax on those who cannot afford newer, alternative energy cars? The same type of debate is raging over health care legislation and who should carry the burden of poorly distributed resources. Simplistic answers of increased taxes, fees and service charges are typically disproportionately assessed and avoid underlying factors.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1921, ÒYou see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?" Robert F. Kennedy paraphrased the sentiment during his campaign for President in 1968, ÒSome people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?Ó Local leaders need to temper promises with intermediate goals that can be achieved within a reasonable timeframe. Unlike some utilities such as PG&E that surreptitiously tack on fees and charges that are nothing more than creation of additional revenue to offset losses and escalating costs, our local government must operate in the limelight of local scrutiny and review. To reach loftier dreams, each community must look within its own tax base to see whether proposed goals and dreams are worthy of funding through development bonds, grants and private resources. We can realize our goals if commitment starts with the community.