Visalia reworks city fees ahead of FY ‘24-25

(Rigo Moran)

City of Visalia plans to adopt a comprehensive restructuring of its fee system for fiscal year 2024-25

VISALIA – As the new fiscal year approaches, the City of Visalia is poised to implement a significant restructuring of its fee system, aiming to distribute costs more fairly across various services.

The most recent fee restructuring is a recommendation by city staff that will undergo public hearings before a final vote at the city council meeting on June 17. Residents who want to review all the changes can visit the City of Visalia website for a detailed breakdown of the changes.

For fiscal year 2024-25, some fees in the city will increase while others will decrease, and some are being eliminated altogether as city staff looks to apply fees more equitably. According to the staff report on the matter, staff took a look at the actual cost of different services and identified opportunities to save businesses and individuals money while also raising fees on some services that have seen rising costs. 

Some of the largest fee increases deal with programs the city operates to improve sidewalks, driveways and similar projects. While taking care of repairs to broken sidewalks and washed-out driveways are typically the responsibility of the property owners, they also present hazards to the general public and need to be taken care of.

The city operates programs that allow contractors, who work with the city, to complete the repairs and the city passes the costs on to the homeowners in the form of fees. This prevents homeowners from being stuck with the upfront costs.

The cost to repair a residential sidewalk and curb could rise from $35 per square foot to $65 per square foot. The biggest increase will be 35-foot residential/commercial radius returns, bidding at a lump sum of $2,350 in the coming fiscal year, compared to 2023-24 when those projects were bid at just $503.46. 

There will also be a big jump in the cost to replace trash bins. The one-yard bins issued to residents will cost a homeowner around $970 to replace if damaged or destroyed, up from $827 the previous year.

This increase led Councilmember Liz Wynn to comment, “Anyone know about how to get trashcan insurance?” Ultimately, homeowners insurance, and perhaps even renters insurance, would cover the cost if “vandals,” as Wynn described them, happen to light trash cans on fire. 

Some of the notable decreases in fees involve the Parks and Recreation department, with fees such as pool rentals decreasing by around $50 depending on the number of people using the facilities. Tennis courts, pickleball courts and similar racquetball facilities will see a modest $1 bump in cost. 

Additionally, fee changes will apply to tournaments for the first time if these modifications pass. Staff identified that tournaments tend to place an undue burden on facilities due to a significant jump in the number of people using them at once. On top of that, there are also numerous changes throughout parks and recreation addressing the difference between non-profit use and other uses, with a 20% discount on rates provided to non-profit organizations. 

Some fees could also be dropped, as staff identified several fees that they deemed unnecessary and redundant. Among them was the Distribution of Printed Matter Fees, as the municipal code strictly prohibits the distribution of printed matter. The fee for a service no longer offered through the city’s contractor is also being eliminated.

Additionally, the rental fee for the Community Campus at 300 NW 3rd Ave. has been removed, as the park is not eligible for reservations. The redundant City Owned Enclosure Fee, which pertains to cleaning costs already covered elsewhere, is being deleted. Finally, the Topper/Header Only advertising option is being discontinued based on recommendations from the city’s new marketing team, as it is a small portion of the vehicle and is now included in other advertising options.

Some language regarding fees has also been proposed to change. Notably, Christmas Tree Parks – also used for pumpkin patches and other events – have been modified so that the operators of tree farms aren’t held liable for charges. These types of simplistic changes show the unique and dedicated level to which city staff reevaluate the fee structure every year to make sure that when charges are levied, they are done in an equitable manner.

Mayor Brian Poochigian commented at the meeting that, while it would be a simple thing for city governments to simply elevate all rates, Visalia city staff has taken a more thoughtful approach. He said they have critically analyzed each fee based on actual costs, lowering some while raising others and eliminating unnecessary charges all together. According to him, this effort shows that Visalia aims for fairness in ways that many similar cities do not.

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