Fee high, no fun 

Come January, you (and roughly 30,000 others) will likely shell out $15 instead of $10 for that municipal court fee tacked onto your speeding ticket and other misdemeanors. A slew of fees charged for city services is slated to increase mid-fiscal year 2006 as well, although Missoula City Council’s approval is still pending. Business license, engineering and planning fees will go up three percent. Building inspection permits will increase 10 percent overall, with a 30-percent jump in electrical, plumbing and mechanical inspections making up for a lack of increase in building permits.

Brentt Ramharter, the city’s chief financial officer, says increases are necessary to narrow the gap between the cost of services and the revenue coming in to pay for them. A 2001 study, he says, revealed the gap, and the city’s been working since then to make up the difference.

At the July 25 Council meeting, though, the proposal was sent back to committee after several members expressed concern over particularly large hikes: Ward 6’s Clayton Floyd, for example, was puzzled by the fee hike for rezoning land parcels one acre or larger. The fee currently stands at $2,250, and would rise to $3,375 this year and to $4,500 the next. In 1995, according to Office of Planning and Grants Financial Manager Mark Munson, the fee was $500.

During July 25’s public hearing regarding the hike, a few citizens—none from the building industry—called the increases unfair. But Ramharter points out that the lag between when building occurs and taxation begins is nearly two years, and it’s difficult for the city to balance its budget in the meantime.

“We want growth to pay its fair proportion,” Ramharter says. “In the past we’ve had taxes subsidizing them, but we’re trying to reduce that.”

The fees pay for services only used by a small group, he says. One example that stands out is the fee accompanying a business license for “devices depicting sexual activity,” —machines that flash dirty pictures when you put money in them. At least that’s one fee most of us won’t be sweating.

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