Fees, fines could rise as Austin looks at budget
The Austin City Council discussed the 2012 budget again Monday night. Time is running out for discussion and changes, with the truth-in-taxation hearing approaching Nov. 29.
"We're getting down to crunch time," said Tom Dankert, director of administrative services.
During its work session, the council approved getting started on drafting the truth-in-taxation documents. Council members also voted to move forward with fee changes relating to the fire department, as well as snow-related fines.
Fees for auto extrication, false alarms and fire watches, along with fireworks permits, are some areas where operational costs of the Austin Fire Department could be recovered. For auto extrication, the fee would be $250 per hour per engine with a minimum of one hour, with each responder billed at hourly cost.
Council member Roger Boughton first suggested the auto extrication fee at an Oct. 3 work session. At that time, the council unanimously approved the idea.
A fireworks permit would be $100 for a temporary retail area to sell fireworks. For false alarms, each one after the allowable two per year would be $100 per false alarm. The fire watch fee refers to fire crews having to wait for the party to respond to their properties; the fee would be an hourly cost for the crew and actual time over 30 minutes.
Fire Chief Mickey Healey said these are some common fees he found other departments using within the past 10 years. They would be "fair fees for us to look at," he said.
It was a 4-3 vote on the motion for the auto extrication fees and fireworks permit. With council member Marian Clennon absent, Mayor Tom Stiehm had to break the tie. Stiehm, Boughton, Janet Anderson and Judy Enright voted in favor of the fees; Jeff Austin, Steve King and Brian McAlister voted no.
"I hate to just start charging just to charge," King said. "Because I see auto extrication and alarm fees as part of their duties. I see fireworks as something different."
A second motion, made by Enright, to accept the extrication, fire watch and false alarm fees passed 4-2, with Austin and King voting against it.
"I just see a slippery slope when you start feeing people for emergency services that they're already paying property taxes for," King said.
"We have to find ways to bring in some money," Enright said. "I think we need to start looking at things like this."
The council also voted 6-0 to bring snow removal and snow emergency fine increases to its next meeting for official approval. The change was recommended by Police Chief Brian Krueger based on a list from 10 surrounding cities that had a range of $10 to $26 for snow-related tickets. Stewartville was the highest, with a $75 fine for a snow emergency.
Changing the fine from $10 to $25 "would be very much in line with what's happening around us," and fair to the citizens of Austin, Krueger said.
The council will vote to officially approve all of these items at its next meeting Nov. 21.