Sunday, December 3, 2023

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Graham, NC 27253
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City council approves slate of fees and charges for 2023

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Burlington’s city council has adopted a new catalog of charges and fees that could leave some area residents feeling a bit poorer in the new calendar year.

The city’s new fee schedule, which takes effect January 1, received a unanimous nod from the council on Tuesday – paving the way for cost increases in trash pickup, planning review, and utility connections. The new schedule also contains some changes in the arena of recreation and parks, including some cost decreases for out-of-towners who use Burlington’s recreation facilities – albeit with corresponding increases for the city’s own residents.

Among the highlights of this fee schedule is an 18-cent hike in the monthly cost of garbage collection that the city’s public works department has imposed due to a recent increase in the fee which Alamance County’s landfill charges for solid waste disposal. The public works department has also increased the charge for trashcan replacement from $50 to $65 a pop.

A number of other noteworthy changes come from the city’s planning department, which has ramped up its fees from an extra $50 for food truck permits to $250 more for conditional zoning and planned development requests. The planning department has also introduced a number of new charges, such as a $50 fee for a permit to raise certain temporary structures and a $1,000 charge for a proposed adjustment to the boundaries of a historic overlay district.

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Another newly-implemented assessment will require homeowners within either of the city’s two historic districts to pay $100 for a certificate of appropriateness to make a “major” improvements to their property. This new fee raised some concerns for members of the city council when the proposed fees were presented to them during a regularly-scheduled work session on Monday. Jaime Lawson, the city’s planning director, reassured the council that she had held off, for now, on the imposition of any similar fees for “minor” home improvements within the two historic districts.

The city’s water resources division has, likewise, pumped up some of its fees in order to cover its own expanding expenses. These changes include higher charges for residential water connections – which, in the case of a basic tap with a backflow device, has risen from $1,700 to $2,500 for the city’s own residents and from $3,400 to $5,000 for out-of-town customers. The cost of sewer connections has also gone up for both residents and non-residents alike – the former having gone from $1,800 to $2,800 for a standard 4-inch connection while the latter has risen from $3,600 to $5,600.

The news for out-of-town residents isn’t entirely dismal, however, thanks to some streamlining in the city’s recreation and parks department. In order to simply its fee structure for facility rentals, the department has done away with the higher, non-resident rates that it has traditionally charged for picnic shelters and other city-owned structures. Under the new, one-rate policy, Out-of-towners will spend $20 or $30 less for most picnic shelter rentals while Burlington residents will incur comparable increases to reserve these same sites.

The city’s recreation department has also increased most of the fees at the city-owned Valley Golf Course while adding a $4 charge for children 10 years and under, who could previously roam the links at no cost.

Meanwhile, the recreation department has introduced a $10 charge to reserve court time at the tennis center in Burlington’s City Park. This particular impost raised the eyebrows of councilmember Kathy Hykes when the proposed fees were presented at Monday’s work session. Hykes argued that this $10 charge seems like it would be “awkward” to administer and a potential barrier to the city’s less affluent residents. In response, the city’s recreation director Tony Laws assured her that the new fee would only apply to City Park’s tennis center – and even then, only in the late afternoon and early evening, which he described as “prime time” for the tennis center.

“We put it in because of the demand we’re getting for the tennis center,” Laws went on to explain during the work session “Most of the time it’s going to be first come-first served. And we’re not charging anything at Fairchild and Davidson Park…So, I don’t think it’s going to price anyone out from playing tennis”

In any event, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler urged the city’s department heads to keep an ear tuned to the public response to any new charges and fees that the city has implemented.
“I remember when we added the fees for [commercial] fire inspections [in 2020],” he recalled, “it seemed well and good while we were here, but then we started getting complaints from the public.”

The council eventually discontinued those fees and refunded the proceeds in light of due the hue and cry they incurred from the city’s business owners.

Meanwhile, Hykes implored the rest of the council to think carefully about the extent of their reliance on user fees to supplement the city’s tax revenue.

“How far do we go with these charges?” she went on to inquire. “People are paying taxes, and we provide facilities for them, and I’m just wondering where the break point is.”

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