Thousand Oaks City Council grapple with Citywide user Fees, Fines and Penalties

By Kevin Harris

Tuesday, February 28, 2017:  Citywide user fees, fines, penalties and development fees, followed by marijuana, were the hot topics of Tuesday night’s City Council Meeting in Thousand Oaks.

Item 8A was classified as a “Study Session” and a “Draft” for Citywide User Fees, Fines, Penalties, Rates and Assessments, and Development and Impact Fees (here after referred to as “fees discussion”). But the discussion’s purpose was ultimately for the Council to “receive” the information and provide direction to the staff, then schedule a public hearing for April 25, 2017 for adoption.

The fees discussion was presented by John Adams, Thousand Oaks Finance Director, who explained that the types of fees being discussed ranged from Community Development and Finance fees to Library, Police and Public Works fees to Road & Traffic fees, among others. But it was made clear early on that “fees” are not “taxes,” with the primary difference being the city can not profit from fees. They can only be limited to full recovery of the fee, or the “use.”

John Adams, Finance Director

One other item of interest to city residents that was revealed during the fees discussion is that the Thousand Oaks Library plans on processing and issuing passports, beginning as early as late summer, according to Heather Cousin, Thousand Oaks Library Director.

During the “public speakers” time for the fees discussion, City Council regular, and citizen advocate, Nick Quidwai, spoke in opposition to the number of, and the amount of, the fees. “When will this end? User fees are taxes,” he said.

“We need some new fees my friends,” Quidwai continued. How about a marijuana entrepreneur fee? A marijuana user fee? That’s where the money is going to be coming from, right? Because the councilman said, cars will be going away, so people will be smoking and flying.” (Quidwai’s comment about cars going away is in reference to Council Member Adam’s comment from a previous meeting about the lack of need for more parking structures, because people will be replacing their cars with self-driving vehicles).

Council Member Adam responded to Mr. Quidwai’s comments as soon as Quidwai sat down. “Fees are not considered taxes, as long as they’re limited to the full recovery of the fee, and nothing more. Anything above that would, in fact, be a tax,” Adam said. John Adams chimed in, affirming the Council Member’s statement. The Council then voted unanimously to receive the information.

Item 9A was a public hearing, specifically, an ordinance to be read, modifying definitions and regulations concerning marijuana use, cultivation, and transport within Thousand Oaks. It was very technical, not explained very well, and nervously introduced by Compliance Manager Jeff Weir – who could have used some of the whacky weed himself to get through his presentation.

Public speakers followed the period of disorganized double talk, and included Joe Kyle, who discussed his concerns about potential marijuana fees; Sara Armstrong, representing “Americans for Safe Access” (to medical marijuana), who spoke in support of marijuana delivery services – knowing the city’s opposition to “brick n mortar” pot shops; and Sherry Sanders also spoke against potential high marijuana fees.

The Council then voted unanimously to accept the modification and forward it to the Prop. 64 Workshop (Marijuana), set for March 28, 2017. The Council closed the public meeting at that point, but immediately after the meeting closed, Councilman Price added an interesting comment related to the marijuana issue for Thousand Oaks.

He suggested that the landscape with respect to legalization (for all states that voted for it) could be changing soon with the new leadership in Washington. Though it was not said, one could easily be left with the impression that Council Member Price would very much welcome such a change.

 

City Council Meeting Feb 28, 2017 01h 55m Agenda   Video

The next City Council Meeting will be Tuesday, March 14, 2017. To watch the City Council meeting online, go to: http://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/public-information-office/totv/watch-videos. Then scroll down to “available archives” and click on “city council.”  The meeting agenda is available at http://www.toaks.org/home/showdocument?id=8576


Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks 

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4 Responses to Thousand Oaks City Council grapple with Citywide user Fees, Fines and Penalties

  1. Jeff McVicker March 4, 2017 at 2:21 am

    The issue of a user fee is what is ‘full cost’? Calculating what a particular what some service costs gets complex quickly. If one person does a particular user fee service and nothing else, I think everybody would agree that the user fees for that service should cover that service. But what about the volume of the service? What if the number of services he does changes from year to year? Does the city revisit the amount of the user fee? Wonder if a highly paid person doing the user fee service retires and is replaced by a lower paid person? Will the City lower the fee? And the biggest issue is how much overhead for each user fees. Some cities, such as Camarillo allocate the City manager’s salary to its user fees. Is that fair? Wouldn’t there always be a City Manager being paid no matter the amount and volume of user fees? The devil is in the details. Pay attention and watch the rascals closely.

    Reply
  2. Kevin Harris March 3, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Good comments. To complicate matters, there are what are often called “use taxes,” such as gasoline taxes, which in theory, should go toward the things gasoline buyers use, such as road repair and construction, bridge repair, traffic signals, etc.

    The problem is, they are TAXES, and as such, often get looted by local and state government for things such as our bullet train – leaving our well financed roads in disrepair.

    One issue that came out in the council meeting was that if the FEES do not cover the costs, then the taxpayers will be on the hook to make up the difference – to pay for what the actual private user did not pay for.

    Reply
  3. William Hicks March 3, 2017 at 6:03 am

    Although it is clear the difference between a tax and a fee, for all practical purposes they have the same economic draw on private funds.

    A suttle aspect to a fee is that it could be blown off as something less than what it is, and when you consider that a “tax” has certain negative overtones in the name alone, a fee just sounds more benign.

    Has anyone ever considered that if there are enough fee’s it could give the illusion that we are not being taxed at a high level even when funds are being drawn from our wallets?

    Reply
  4. Jimmy D March 2, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    Fees vs. Taxes

    A fee is essentially charged and paid by users of a specific service provided by the city. The fee cannot exceed the cost of a service being provided. It’s based on achieving cost recovery.

    A tax can be: special tax or general purpose tax. A special tax revenue is used for a specific governmental purpose. General purpose tax can be used for any governmental purpose.

    Reply

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