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Politics & Government

Gilman Proposes City Fee Schedule, Annual Fee Updates

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Photo courtesy City of Pittsburgh Department of Parks & Recreation
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According to Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman, figuring out how much it costs to rent a trash container or hire an off-duty police officer is more difficult than it needs to be.

Gilman on Tuesday proposed a bill that would create a schedule of fees for the use of such city-owned property and services. He said currently, fees are scattered throughout city code and various city websites, rather than existing all in one place.

The legislation also calls for the Department of Finance to perform a fee study, to assess whether the fees that the city charges reflect the actual cost of the service or property.

“In some cases we may charge more or in many cases we charge less than the actual cost associated with the program,” Gilman said. “Often politicians don’t want to take that tough vote of increasing a fee or decreasing a fee if that’s what’s appropriate.”

Gilman said his proposal would require that fees be updated each year, based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers, or CPI-U. Gilman said the index, released annually by the federal government, reflects the changing prices of goods and services in a given municipality.

“What has happened to the price of eggs or the price of milk or the price of meat in your community, and look at all of these consumer goods and determine whether it’s gone up or down,” Gilman said. “Some years it goes up, some years it goes down. It’s not a consistently increasing number.”

However, Gilman said it’s not appropriate to adjust every city fee according to the CPI-U. Department directors would have discretion to set some fees based on other factors.

“That might be because of a labor union contract, say with police detail. That’s negotiated in a union contract, so we wouldn’t adjust that,” Gilman said. “Then there are some fees that we want to actually keep low. The best example for that is pool passes. We don’t actually want to break even on the pool passes to cover our costs. We want to make sure the kids in the summer have an economical and affordable way to use our city pools.”

Gilman said the legislation also applies to payments from the city to residents, such as reimbursements for sidewalk damage caused by city-owned trees.

“If you’re a homeowner and you’re getting the price of concrete from 1992, that’s not fair,” Gilman said. “We should be adjusting with the prices of concrete to 2014, 2015 and beyond.”

Gilman said because the fee schedule would be included in the annual budget, residents would be guaranteed a chance to weigh in on fee changes during the public hearings that are a part of the city budgeting process.

City Council will discuss the bill at next week’s committee meeting. If passed, the measure would go into effect with the 2016 budget, and fee changes would take effect Jan. 1 of each year.