Farmington council passes 2013 fee increases on split vote
May questions inter-fund loans, balances
A slew of fees will increase in Farmington next year after a 3-2 City Council vote Oct. 15.
Council members Julie May and Jason Bartholomay cast the dissenting votes regarding the fee increases that City Administrator Dave McKnight first proposed at a workshop last week.
About 25 different fees are increasing across various departments and among those affected will be property owners, businesses and developers.
Council Member Julie May advocated for simplified methods of taxing and city accounting by paying for city staff and services through the general fund instead of incorporating 15 pages of fees.
“Every year if we’re going to sit here and talk about how to increase the general levy and then talk about how to increase fees to pay for staff, that’s basically what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s frustrating as a council member.”
She said she understood development fees, but questioned fees to residents for things like installing new siding or adding a water softener.
Council Member Christy Jo Fogarty said user fees reflect the city’s longstanding pay-as-you-go philosophy of taxation.
“I shouldn’t have to pay for my neighbor’s inspections because he decides to do home improvements on a consistent basis, and vice versa,” she said.
May also cited concern about continually rising taxes in the city.
“As the years go on … the answer can’t just be increase the taxes and fees,” she said, suggesting service cuts as another option.
One of the biggest fee concerns the council discussed is the 2013 increase from $80 to $100 per acre to help fund storm pond dredging. Those fees on commercial properties will increase from $165 to $210 per acre next year.
City Engineer Kevin Schorzman said the city’s 142 storm ponds have never been dredged, and fee increases are needed because of stiffer regulations that increased five times the cost of disposing of materials containing chemicals associated with coal-tar based driveway sealants.
The 2013 fee increase is to fund testing of the city’s storm water ponds. In 2014, council may consider an additional fee increase to cover clean-up costs.
May cited concerns and requested details about inter-fund borrowing and loans that has happened in the funds before increases are approved.
“I don’t feel comfortable increasing a fee when I don’t even know what money should be in that fund,” May said.
New City Finance Director Robin Hanson said she would not have time to research and provide that information before year-end.
Fogarty said she agrees the council needs an understanding of cash flow on the funds, but did not think they should wait until they have that information to take action.
“I understand and completely agree we need to have a real good understanding of what the cash flow is on these (funds) and what’s going where,” Fogarty said. “But that doesn’t change what’s going in …and coming out in a year. We need to keep that flat so we’re not going in a hole.”
She said people pay the storm water fees expecting not to have a huge assessment because that money has been built up over the years.
At the workshop, May had questioned whether the city could avoid increasing fees by utilizing fund balances, but the council was not provided those fund balance amounts.
In an email, Schorzman said the city’s sewer fund has a balance of $826,068.
The city’s water fund, overseen by the autonomous Water Board, is $5.1 million.
Fogarty told this newspaper the Water Board is planning to build a water treatment plant with that money.
Schorzman said the city’s stormwater fund balance is $578,566 and its solid waste fund is $346,194.
Farmington also has funds with negative cash balances.
According to McKnight, the city’s streetlight utility fund has a $17,663 deficit; the Economic Development Authority’s budget is in the red $36,243 now, but is expected to have an $800 balance by year-end.
He said the ice arena fund has a $286,505 deficit. The liquor store’s cash balance is $170,813.