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City raising permit fees
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The cost of processing plans, certain fire and police services and engineering inspections are being raised by the Ceres City Council since they haven't been updated in five years and the city has not been recapturing all the costs of doing business.

On Aug. 8 the council updated a range of fees for services, lowering some but raising the majority.

The fees are not the same as Public Facility Fees which help the city pay for impacts to infrastructure, said Senior Planner Tom Westbrook. The updated and new fees are to pay for the city's costs of having staff perform certain work.

A report compiled by a consultant noted that the city was not bringing in enough fee revenue to support the amount of staff time and costs in providing services. For example, in 2007 the planning division spent $120,999 on fee-related activity but only charged $56,755 in fees. Likewise, the fire department spent $102,589 in fee-for-services costs but only took in $51,150. Those shortfalls and others were born by the general fund.

"If we can recover more closely to 100 percent of the processing time for certain applications we're going to alleviate the burden to the city's general fund," explained Senior Planner Tom Westbrook.

Mayor Chris Vierra was supportive of the adjustments, saying "anything that we can do that helps out the general public via the general fund I'm supportive of." He said development is expected to pay its way.

The new fees put Ceres on average of five of nine cities in terms of level of fees.

"We're certainly not coming in the most expensive in Stanislaus County," said Westbrook.

"It's nice to know we're not the highest and we're not the lowest," said the mayor. "It tells me we're efficient."

Police fee changes include charging $20 for fingerprinting services (now no charge), $95 for funeral escorts (previously no charge), and $145 for background checks. Special event permits now cost $285.

Vehicle releases will jump from $100 to $170.

To sign off a fix-it ticket issued by another agency the charge will drop from $11 to $10.

The city will also begin charging for responses to DUI crashes, charged to the suspect. The fee will be based on time and materials. A state government code section caps the charge at $12,000.

The cost of police reports will decrease from $7 to $4.

Planning division fees both decrease and increase. The fee for the appeal of a Planning Commission meeting, now set at $507, will increase to $630.

Ceres now charges the most of all cities in the county for an appeal. Westbrook defended the increase but Vierra said the added charge would likely not deter a person from filing an appeal.

Westbrook said his goal is to see zero appeals in the future but noted they are quite rare, typically only one or two per year.

Vice Mayor Ken Lane wondered if the city could develop a tiered fee schedule to reflect the costs of certain Planning Commission appeals. His remark was based on the staff time involved in the appeal of the commission's approval of the Walmart Supercenter project. The Walmart appeal is a special circumstance because the city is recouping its staff time through an open processing account paid for by applicant Walmart.

A conditional use permit (CUP) fee jumps from $902 to $1,400 if it involves a major hearing, and $902 to $1,220 for a minor hearing. A CUP handled by staff will cost $920 instead of the current fee of $75.

Lot line adjustment applications will cost $910 now instead of $385.

The cost of a rezoning application drops from $1,768 to $1,440.

A sign permit application will cost businesses $140. Previously the city charged nothing.

Developers will see their fees mostly rise. A site plan approval for a commercial or industrial development involving a public hearing will jump from $462 to $1,230.

Those seeking a variance from city planning policy will pay $1,170 for an application, which jumps up from $696.

An application for a time extension on an approval of tentative maps or site plans increases from $361 to $650.

An administrative use permit will lower from $462 to $360.

Engineering fees that are changing include:

• Final tract map, $900 to $700;

• Subdivision inspection, $3,000 to $2,320;

• Encroachment permit applications involving a curb, gutter and sidewalk, from $64 to $320; and involving a driveway, from $64 to $570.

• Water connection inspection, from $74 to $320;

• Sewer connection inspection, from $54 to $350.

A number of new inspection fees will be charged by the fire department. An example that will affect non-profit organizations is a new fireworks sales booth inspection fee of $282. Previously the city did not charge for the inspection.

Asbestos removal and battery systems inspections will now cost $155.

Carnivals and fairs are now subject to a $151 inspection fee. Inspections of parade floats will be $94.

The city will also charge property owners a weed abatement fee if the action is forced. That charge is rising from $65 to 151.

Residents who phone in a false alarm to firefighters will be charged $112.