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Sierra Madre Council Continues Fee Schedule
BY JIM E. WINBURN
The Sierra Madre City Council’s three newly-elected members experienced their first full meeting Tuesday in what was truly a test of civic endurance.
The council members bravely tackled an agenda packed with plenty of business, but failed to take action on the 2012-2013 budget and fees schedule at the end of the five-hour council meeting.
Items that council members did take action on and approved at the meeting included a fee waiver for a memorial sitting corner in Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park, the sale of Community Development Block Grant Funds to the City of La Mirada in exchange for General Fund money for 60-cents on the dollar, and the first reading of a proposed ordinance to allow adaptive reuse of historic single-family residential properties as bed-and-breakfast inns.
However, after finishing her financial review of the General Fund and its shortcomings, Administrative Services Director Karin Schnaider encouraged the weary council members to at least consider five fee proposals for the 2012-2013 fiscal year fee schedule.
Schnaider had set the stage for the council to consider fee increases after reporting the General Fund has a deficit of $48,000 and that the city is facing a reduction in revenues of $317,600 for the current fiscal year. “There are a few fees that we’d really like to encourage that have gone to their commissions and have been encouraged by their commissions,” she said, noting the cumbersome fee study is 45 pages in length.
Councilmember Chris Koerber noted that the public’s participation may be affected by the late discussion. “It’s 10:30 at night, and there doesn’t look like there’s too many folks in the public who might be interested in this,” he said.
Mayor Josh Moran decided to set the fee study aside for the current meeting and hold a brief discussion on the fee proposals recommended by Schnaider, which included production filming in Sierra Madre, a sewer permit fee for restaurants, the bundling of building and safety fees, a library DVD fee, and something called the Mills Act fee.
Director of Development Services Danny Castro explained the Mills Act fee as a “very cumbersome process” where residents can apply to receive a tax break for the upkeep on their historic property. “You must enter into a contract with the city,” Castro said, explaining that the fee is an upfront cost for the processing of the application. “The owner benefits in the end because every year his taxes are reduced by up to 40 or 60 percent.”
The sewer permit fee for restaurants is a new state requirement for cities to inspect restaurants’ drains to enforce the proper disposal of everyday fats, oils and grease (FOG). The fee proposed for restaurants is $206.
The only fee proposal that raised any significant public disapproval Tuesday night was the so-called DVD library rental fee. A fee of one dollar per week was proposed by staff to check out DVDs. Schnaider said this fee would offset the cost to the library for operating a much-needed credit card machine for its patrons.
Francis Garbaccio spoke out against the fee, reminding the council that the DVD collection is supported in large part by the Friends of the Sierra Madre Library. “In other words, they’re a gift,” she said. “And I find it difficult having the library charge for something that has been given by a group of people who work very hard to support the library.”
As a volunteer to the library, Garbaccio said she knows how extensively the DVD collection is used by nannies and parents of children in the community. She said that libraries are intended to be free, and “our goal should be encouraging the use of the library, not charging our citizens.”
Retired librarian Lida Bushloper also spoke out against the fee, saying that by charging for a certain kind of library material, you are creating a two-tiered system. “One tier for those who can pay, and a more restrictive tier for those who cannot.”
The Next City Council/CRA regular meeting will take place at City Hall on Tuesday, May 22, where the council will continue its discussion and public hearing on the fee schedule for the upcoming fiscal year.