Much as the state will soon do, the city of Houston is raising a bunch of fees.
The city of Houston is poised to raise an estimated 150 fees for services ranging from pool inspections to boiler permits, part of Mayor Annise Parker’s effort to close a $30 million budget hole.
Some City Council members have objected to the fee increases, which are expected to generate $6.5 million in revenue this year, but Parker administration officials have defended the plan, saying the city is trying to recoup its costs.
“Each of these fees is providing a unique service to a unique customer,” said Andy Icken, the mayor’s chief development officer. “We have looked back at what it costs us to provide that service, and we believe each of those customers should not subsidize each other, nor should the general public subsidize these services. We’re trying to make them revenue-neutral to the general public.”
That’s kind of an odd usage of “revenue neutral”, since revenue is in fact being raised. I see what he’s getting at, but unless these fees go into dedicated funds, which have been drawing from general revenue to make up for their own shortfalls, I don’t think it fits. But whatever.
I expect there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth about this. Some of it will come from people who have been speaking at length about the need to cut and sacrifice and tighten belts and all that. I have no sympathy for any of that. If we’re going to be cutting city employees’ salaries (which is effectively what furlougs are) and laying them off, it’s only fair to spread the pain around some more. By all means, go over each one (see the full list here) and make adjustments as needed and where fair, but face facts: We’re not solving this problem on cuts alone.
And then there’s this:
Councilman C.O. Bradford said the fee increases, coupled with water rate hikes of more than 40 percent, come at the wrong time.
“It is simply not the time to just categorically say every fee the city can raise, it is going to raise it,” he said. “This doesn’t help citizens nor businesses. The city tends to overregulate. There are too many fees, taxes and regulations as it is. … This is what helps to drive the middle class in Houston out into the county.”
I’m sorry, but saying there’s “too many fees, taxes and regulations” is one of the easiest and laziest things to do in politics. How about you tell me which taxes and fees are too high, which regulations are not needed, and what specific cuts you would propose to make up for revenues that would be lost by lowering or eliminating the taxes and fees or dropping the regulations? It’s put up or shut up time.
I should add, I’m not at all unsympathetic to the idea that the city could use some regulatory overhaul. Parking regulations in particular could use a good, long look. I’m just saying, if you’ve got some ideas about how to save the city, its residents, or its businesses some money, now is an excellent time to come forward and spell them out. Just include all the details, OK? Hair Balls has more.