County commissioners consider fee increases as part of next year’s budget

Lisa Burley, budget and financial management analyst, presents fee changes proposed by the Office of Management and Budget during a June 6 budget information session.

CLEARWATER — A number of fee increases are proposed as part of the fiscal year 2019-2020 Pinellas County budget. Staff presented a list of changes during a June 6 budget information session.

Although entry fees at county parks weren’t on the list, Commissioner Dave Eggers took the opportunity to bring up his request to eliminate them. Entry fees were implemented at the county’s beach parks during the great recession to help pay the costs of maintenance. Eggers believes the fees are no longer necessary.

Commissioner Janet Long pointed out that Eggers had brought up the entry fees every year since he was elected in 2014. She said eliminating them would be a “slippery slope going forward.” She wants to ensure the budget continues to have enough money to pay for parks and preserves. She wanted to know where the money would come from if not the fees.

“I expect our parks to be maintained at a decent level” without entry fees, said Commissioner Pat Gerard.

Commission Chair Karen Seel said Parks and Conservation Resources had come up with innovative ways to maintain the parks during the recession and she pointed out that the county was fortunate to have a lot of volunteers. She said the entry fees had helped to maintain the parks. She said people who use the parks pay the fees. She believes the fees are necessary.

Commissioner Ken Welch said the commission had been under a lot of pressure when it decided to implement fees, adding that many people were laid off back then.

“We have to be careful going forward,” he said.

Fee increases and new fees

Lisa Burley, budget and financial management analyst, presented fee changes proposed by the Office of Management and Budget. If approved, fees for FY 2020 would bring in an estimated $14.3 million to the General Fund.

The biggest share, 44.7% would come from Park and Conservation Resources fees, followed by 22.7% from animal services, 12.9% from Development Review Services. All others, including Human Services, the medical examiner and Public Works would bring in the rest.

No fee changes are proposed for Park and Conservation Resources, but $62,750 in fee increases are proposed for Animal Services. It will cost $25 more, from $75 to $100, to adopt a small breed dog. The cost to board an animal will go from $10 to $15. If fee increases are approved, it will cost $10 more to spay a dog and $5 more for a cat. It will cost $5 more to neuter a dog or a cat.

It will cost more to claim an animal that has been impounded — $15 more if they have been sterilized and $25 more if they have not been sterilized.

According to supplemental information provided by Burley, when animals that have not been sterilized are impounded, owners will be offered an incentive to have the animal spayed or neutered when they come to claim them. If they choose to pay to have the animal spayed or neutered, the impound fee will be waived. Owners also can choose to take their animal to a vet of their choice to be spayed or neutered within 30 days. The owner can then request a refund of the difference in cost for reclaiming a sterilized animal versus one that has not been sterilized, which is currently $40.

Two new fees are being proposed for the Planning Department associated with new procedures in the land development code that allows for “administrative adjustments,” also known as variances. The new procedures allow for department staff or the Development Review Committee to review and make decisions on certain adjustments.

A new fee of $175 is proposed for a departmental review and $250 for Development Review Committee review.

Two other new fees are proposed under Real Estate Management. If approved, $140 fee would be charged to rent the gallery at the Pinewood Cultural Park on weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and a $200 fee would be charged to rent the gallery on weekdays after 5 p.m. and weekends.

The money would go back into the general fund to help cover operating and janitorial costs for events at the gallery, as well as costs to manage access to Pinewood Cultural Park for after hour’s events.

A new fee is proposed at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport as part of the ground transportation reorganization. Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber and Lyft, as well as commercial providers, including taxicabs, limousines, car services, shuttles and any other provider using the ground transportation lot will be charged $4.

Burley explained that the new charges are designed to provide equity and consistency for all ground transportation providers and transportation network companies. The new reorganized system will treat ground transportation providers and TNCs with fairness and consistency, she said.

TNC drivers will use “geo-fence” technology, which is a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area that will be set by the airport. TNC drivers will download the application on their phones and enable the airport to recognize their vehicles when they enter the perimeter. TNC providers will be billed monthly.

Ground transportation providers will be issued a radio-frequency identification sticker, similar to SunPass technology, that will detect provider drivers and those companies will be billed monthly.

Staff estimated that the fee for TNC drivers will bring in about $144,000 a year and $100,000 for ground transportation providers. Hotel courtesy shuttles pay $600 a year.

Changes have been made in terminal service charges paid by airlines. The fees are no longer based on the weight of the airplane but instead are calculated on the number of departures. The current fee schedule shows a $3 charge for 0-2,500 departures, which will increase to $75. At the high end of the scale, more than 10,000 departures, the fee will go from $0 to $50.

There also is a proposed $15 increase in the fee for the passenger loading bridge. Proposed new fees and fee adjustments at the airport would bring in an additional $872,230, which would go to the airport’s budget.

In addition, OM&B proposes an average 10% increase on Building Services fees. Burley said the main reason for the increase is that fees have not been adjusted since 2011. The increased fees would bring in an estimated $663,000 a year.

The new fee schedule will be presented to the County Commission in the proposed budget on July 23. The fee schedule also will be presented during the budget hearings on Sept. 12 and Sept. 24. If approved, the new fee schedule will be posted on the county’s website at the beginning of the fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2019.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.