Residents of Revelstoke have until Feb. 8 to read and comment on a proposed new fees bylaw that will increase many fees charged by the city.
The Times Review first reported on the bylaw in this story in March of 2011.
The bylaw amends fees for many services, including development, building and fire services. But in a surprise move, many new fees will be added to the bylaw, including recreation, animal control, business licensing and cemetery fees.
The philosophy behind the revised and new fees is spelled out in a report by a cost and management consultant conducted in 2010. The ‘James Pammenter’ report compared fees with other municipalities and suggested changes. The key concept is that developers and others who incur costs to the city should pay for those costs, including staff time. When the bylaw was introduced in February of 2011, Coun. Chris Johnston said he agreed with the philosophy: “If I apply for a subdivision then I am the one that should be paying for it,” he said.
Many of the fire services fees are new, while only some of the building inspection fees are new, while some remain the same or have been revised upwards. When the report was issued, it was expected that the changes would bring in $200,000 annually in new revenue for the city.
Over the past year, the city has been collecting input on the plan. This includes referrals to advisory committees and community group meetings.
What has the feedback been? At the Jan. 24 regular council meeting, mayor David Raven told council it was a mixture of angst and acceptance: “Nobody likes an increase of fees for services and a shift, in some cases, towards recovery of the actual cost of producing that service, where it’s been covered by the cost of taxpayers before,” Raven said. “So there was angst around some of the increases; other ones were accepted as being normal and logical.”
At a Jan. 19 building and bylaw advisory committee meeting, city planning staff heard that the fees were helping drive up the cost of housing, making housing unaffordable for young families.
One committee member, who is a developer, told the city that its new fees contributed to pushing up the cost of new homes and driving down the value of undeveloped land in the city. Although the new fees are a small slice of the development cost pie, it amounted to death by a thousand paper cuts. Young people were being forced out of the market as costs escalated and Revelstoke lost competitiveness.
Even Revelstoke’s building inspector Tim Luini commented at the advisory meeting that he wouldn’t be able to afford a home here if he was starting from scratch.
Another committee member said even though the new fees amount to an extra few thousand dollars per unit, currently that extra amount is proving to be a deal breaker for many real estate transactions as young families scrape the loan limits dictated by their mortgage brokers.
It has also been argued that these kind of recovery bylaws amount to a reverse subsidy that drives up the cost of housing; by making new development more expensive, housing stock is artificially limited, driving up the value of existing housing stock. Established homeowners enjoyed the subsidized service, while young people entering the housing market will have to absorb these added costs, making housing less affordable. Others argue that cost-recovery is fine, but only if more is done to reduce the other side of the equation: the cost of city services.
And if you’re looking to renovate an old fixer-upper, you’re not off the hook. A development permit for major renovations is jumping from $30 to $800, while a new heritage alteration permit will ding you $300. In addition, there are dozens of new fire inspection fees, many of them running in the hundreds of dollars.
Don’t get caught doing renovations on the sly; there’s a $2,000 maximum penalty for that, and any subsequent permit fees will be doubled.
New fees bylaw for Revelstoke Community Centre
An interesting new addition to the bylaw is a new fee bylaw for recreation services. When the cost-recovery concept was introduced in 2011, there was no talk of fees for recreation services. In fact, the cost-recovery model was more politically palatable because it was targeted at private land developers. A year later, some recreation fee schedules have been tagged onto the bylaw.
The city is proposing a new four-tiered rate bylaw for room rentals. Previously, the city used an operations manual that spelled out rental rates, but it was full of grey areas, and many groups got rooms for free.
The new bylaw enshrines the rental rates in law. A for-profit (code 1) business will pay $700 per day to rent all three sections of the big multi-purpose room. A business (code 2) will pay $500, a non-profit (code 3) will pay $292, while a charity (code 4) will pay $245.
In addition, new hourly rates for room rentals have been introduced.
There is a new ‘in kind’ exemption that will allow for the fees to be waived for some community service events.
The vast majority of recreation department-related fees have not changed, or have minor incremental increases. This includes thinks like day passes to the pool or field rental rates.
More new and increased city fees to come
Although the bylaw was first introduced to recover costs for planning, building and fire services, it has now been expanded to include other fees administered by city hall into a consolidated bylaw. A note in the Jan. 16 report into the bylaw says the city will add new and revised fees schedules this year. The report says changes are coming to water, sewer, animal control and business licensing. And they’ll get you when you’re going – the cemetery fee schedule is also up for revision.
It’s unclear if adding these fees into a consolidated bylaw will mean increases in the fees. However, it’s notable that the addition of the revised recreation fees slipped by with next to no comment from councillors.
At their Jan. 24 meeting, city council unanimously opted to give the first two readings to the bylaw. There was very little discussion of the actual content of the bylaw.
For those wishing to read the bylaw for themselves, it is item 9b in the Jan. 24 agenda.