City passes fee and permit increases

December 15, 2010 5:07:04 PM PST
If you live and work in the city of Houston, get ready to pay more for certain services. Big decisions made at City Hall on Wednesday mean you'll be paying more for things like parking downtown, having a pool or even a security system in your home and plenty of things in between. Houston City Council approved a price hike for all kinds of fees and permits and chances are some of them will affect you. The fee increases are expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the city. It's all part of the mayor's plan to dig Houston out of a $30 million budget shortfall.

Over the next six months, the new fees are predicted to add up to about $3 million. The mayor emphasized it is not a tax hike. But for many people who will use the new permits and need new inspections, it will still cost a lot more.

[ SEE THE FULL LIST OF INCREASED FEES ]
PART 1 | PART 2

Council is attempting to strike a balance between cutting expenses and increasing income, and says it's complicated.

"When you look through it, it doesn't add up when you randomly pick some of the fees," said Council Member C.O. Bradford.

The outcome was to increase some 150 city fees for permits and services. A sampling: an animal rabies license that doubles $10 to $20; a residential burglar alarm permit goes from $30 to $35; and a fire alarm permit from $50 to $75.

In additon, if you park in downtown Houston, for short-term parking at city meters, prices are going up from a range of 10 cents to $1.50 to a range of 30 cents to $1.80.

Perhaps among the most dramatic hikes is a sexually oriented business license jumping from $475 to $2,000.

Some fees in the package haven't been changed in 20 years. The argument for the change is that the city desperately needs income and for years, taxpayers have been subsidizing those fees priced too low.

"Will bring us more into balance for those specialized fees that very few Houstonians have a need for and should be borne by the people who need those specialized services," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

The package had three dissenting votes from council members Jolanda Jones, Mike Sullivan, and C.O. Bradford, who argue rather than fee hikes there should be elimination of some services.

"What is it that we should or should not be doing from a service delivery standpoint in these tough economic times and have core service activities only?" said Council Member Bradford.

In the end, the mayor estimates the fee increases will help cover more of the cost to issue and approve permits, but not all. And it's only one part of the ongoing money saving moves to which city government now has to adjust.

The plan is to have an ongoing annual review of fees.

"I think the most important point I'd make for this council is not only is this process been done this time, but it will be integrated into the annual operating budgets. And if our costs go down, our fees will come down at the same time," said Andy Icken, City Chief Development Officer. "We have structured many of these costs that we believe are incentives to further reduce their costs."

Now that the proposal has been passed, it could cause an increase in the cost for contracting jobs, valet and even affect neighborhood association fees.

If passed the majority of fees will increase right away. And it could generate $6.5 million in revenue this year; by fiscal year 2012 the city will have collected more than $8 million.

The fee increases will affect a range of Houstonians. Here's a look at some of the other fee hikes approved today:

    Boot removed from your car - $100 to $150
    Swimming pool inspection - $85 to $230
    Annual mobile food vendor licenses - $350 to $535
    Valet operator permits - $1,000 to $1,500
    Permit for auto repair facility - $220 to $490
    Annual taxi permit - $400 to $500
    Sexually oriented business entertainer - $60 to $250
    Renewal license for X-rated arcade - $100 to $1,000


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