Torrance Tentatively OKs New User Fees, Hikes in Others

Times Staff Writer

If you are a resident of Torrance and your neighbors complain repeatedly to the police when you play loud music at 3 a.m., you may have to pick up the tab for their house call.

The City Council has given tentative approval to 19 new or increased user fees, including a $97 fee that would be assessed if police come to your home more than once to tell you to turn down the music.

The fees were discussed Tuesday at the first of three City Council meetings that will consider a total of 109 user fees in an attempt to raise city revenue by making users pay more of the cost of providing a wide range of services. The proposed increases would raise about $2 million annually--a 72% increase in fees collected by the city.

The city allocated about $8.9 million to provide user-fee services in 1988 and collected $2.6 million in fees. If the proposed fees are approved, the city's cost for those services would drop to $4.3 million. According to a study commissioned by the city, the city subsidizes about 70% of the cost of city-provided services. If all fee increases are approved, the subsidy would be reduced to 49%.

Police, Fire Fees

On Tuesday, the council discussed police, fire, traffic engineering and utilities department user fees. Next week, it will discuss developers fees. At the third meeting, they will discuss recreation department fees, city officials said.

The increases would be phased in over a three-year period beginning July 1, city officials said.

User fees are those assessed for services used by individuals, such as adult education classes and building inspections. The fees are paid as the service is provided.

After nearly two hours of discussion, the council voted unanimously to have the 19 proposed fees it reviewed presented in ordinance form on March 21 for a final vote.

Finance Director Mary Giordano said she is optimistic that the council will support most of them.

"Its hard to say in advance if they will support all of them because we are considering 109 fees," she said in an interview. "But I felt that there was support from the council."

Giordano said that once the city staff clarifies some concerns raised by the council, the 19 proposed user fees are likely to be enacted.

The largest fees would be charged to state and county agencies for capital improvement projects that the city handles on contracts with these agencies.

City Overhead

Giordano said that every year the city handles many of these projects, including street repairs, for state and county agencies and that while these agencies always pay for the work, they never pay for the city overhead--the staff time involved in managing the delivery of services, she said.

The proposed fee would charge state and county agencies 17.8% of the total cost of a project and would raise $390,000 annually, according to a financial report that analyzed the impact of the fees.

One set of fees that raised questions were proposed "false alarm" charges.

According to the proposal, after three false burglary alarms the city would bill a resident $75 for each subsequent time the Police Department responded. It would also charge $100 for each false robbery alarm.

Councilman Dan Walker said he opposes the burglary alarm fee because it might deter residents from buying burglar alarm systems.

"I'm worried that the city would send the signal saying that, for whatever reason, you shouldn't use an alarm system," he said.

Cost in Manpower

Police Chief Donald Nash disagreed, saying that the fee would only deter residents from accidentally setting off the alarms.

"It would just make people more careful," he said in an interview.

Giordano agreed. "It costs us in manpower when we have to go out to investigate" false alarms, she said.

Mayor Katy Geissert said she was concerned that a proposed $97 fee for police responding to more than one call of disturbing the peace at the same address could be abused.

Under the proposal, the city would charge the fee beginning the second time that police respond to a complaint at the same address. The fee would be assessed in addition to any fine resulting from the issuing of a citation. Geissert said it is possible that a resident who does not like a neighbor might file false complaints.

"I can imagine some real abuse," she said.

Nash pointed out that the fee would not be automatic. Officers would assess the fee only if, in their judgment, the resident had been disturbing the peace.

First In-Depth Analysis

David M. Griffith & Associates, a Sacramento-based consulting firm that specializes in revenue studies for state and local governments, studied user fees in Torrance. Giordano said the Finance Department is recommending that the council approve all the increases suggested by the report.

City Manager LeRoy Jackson, who recommended the analysis during last year's mid-year budget review, said this is the city's first in-depth analysis of the cost of user-fee services.

City officials have said that the city is not suffering financial hardship but expressed concern about unexpected costs in the past few years. Such expenses include putting aside $500,000 for safety studies, a potential legal battle with the Torrance Mobil refinery and the $5.2 million cost of repairing the mudslide at Via Corona and Vista Largo.

According to the report, the city should consider increasing user fees because California residents want local government "to operate in a business-like fashion."

The consulting firm, which took five months to complete the report, compared user fees in Torrance with fees in other Southern California cities of similar size.

PROPOSED USER FEES

Services Cost Current Proposed Fee Fee Police Department False alarms Burglary--first three calls $54 per call none none Burglary--subsequent calls $54 per call none $75 Robbery--first call $54 per call none $100 Driving under the influence Non-paramedic response $240/accident none $240 With paramedic $525/accident none $525 Police reports $30/accident $5 $15 Vehicle impound $11 none $15 Disturbing the peace: First visit $97 per visit none none Second visit $97 per visit none $971 Fire Department Fire prevention plan check $32 $30 $32 Routine inspection: First inspection $20 none none Second inspection $20 none $20 Environmental Quality Division Signs: Signs requiring staff approval $215 $85 $122 Temporary signs $84 $25 $47 Permanent signs $110 $45 $110 Other Revenues Sources Utility: New account/water $16/turn on $12 $15 Refuse delinquency $16/turn on none $15

Services Estimated Revenue Police Department False alarms $5,000 (total) Burglary--first three calls Burglary--subsequent calls Robbery--first call Driving under the influence Non-paramedic response unavailable With paramedic unavailable Police reports $20,000 Vehicle impound $7,000 Disturbing the peace: First visit unavailable Second visit unavailable Fire Department Fire prevention plan check $5,560 Routine inspection: First inspection none Second inspection $70,000 Environmental Quality Division Signs: Signs requiring staff approval $2,880 Temporary signs $3,240 Permanent signs $32,500 Other Revenues Sources Utility: New account/water $6,000 Refuse delinquency $4,155

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