Monday, September 11, 2006

Officials: The problems is growth; no correct that, the problem is lack of growth

This is from The Record (Stockton).

Here, City Manager Adams admits that if the "growth" were to stop or slow down, that would be bad, we "wouldn't be able to afford things."

This is a direct contradiction of what we've been told until now. We've been told that that "because of all the growth, we need to raise the taxes to keep up!" In other words, that "new growth" was a "burden" to the city. The phrase "keep up with growth" is one we hear all the time. I've long suspected that was nonsense. Now we find out, we've been living off those "developer fees" that we've been told are insufficient to even cover the costs of "new growth!"

I've often suspected that the amounts they decided to charge for "developer fees" was somehow pre-ordained. In other words, they first decide how much they feel like charging as a developer fee, then they play with the numbers to make the "amount" come out right (to what they previously decided they wanted to charge.) For example, look at the recent fight over the "government facility fee." That's a fee charged to all new homes, and it's supposed to pay for "government facilities" that are needed because of the new growth. According to the "development fee" law, the fees are not suppose to be a "way around" the proposition 13 limits, they aren't supposed to be a "stealth tax" used to support other city services.

In order to figure out ("justify") the new developer fees, the law requires that engineers do all sorts of calculations; things like if there is one street light for every two houses, they can charge for the cost of 1/2 a street light for each new house. And they figure out how many feet of new street and new sewer line is needed per house, and they can add that in. The idea is that "growth pays it's own way" -- but that growth isn't supposed to be a bonanza of "bonus money" for the city to do with as it pleases and use for crazy projects and exorbitant raises in pay for government workers, etc.

That term crazy projects makes me think of the latest raise in developer fees. They included the future cost of a performing arts center as something caused by the new growth. In other words, if there are new houses, we will suddenly need a performing arts center. Remember that with developer fees, they are thousands of dollars charged for each new home, the new resident pays these fees, but they are charged now, before they even move in. How do we know that these new residents will have any interest whatsoever in a performing arts center? What I'm saying is that when they were creating the developer fees, they decided on what the fee should be (first), then added things to make the numbers work. Sort of like "these numbers aren't working out... What can we add... I got it, lets add a performing arts center, lets say it costs so many million dollars... There we go, now the math works out."

In theory, according to the way it's "supposed to be figured out," if "growth" were to stop today, it should make absolutely no difference to the city budget. After all, they did all these very careful calculations showing that the fees charged per new house is exactly what is needed for the growth only, and not for the rest of the city.

The fact that the city manager is now moaning about how some city programs might be cut, or someone might not get their raise, if the housing market were to slow down is proof that the calculations are wrong; that the city has been depending on the new houses to fund things for the rest of us.

In other words, when they want to raise the developer fees, we are told how they are so low, they don't even cover anything, they have to be raised (poor, poor us!). And we are told it's because of all that damn growth! There's nothing we can do about it, we can't stop the growth, so we just have to raise the fees and the taxes. Now, suddenly, the tables turn and growth threatens to stop, and now the city is saying "oh no! This is terrible, without that growth, we're doomed, we need that growth to pay for things.

Which is it? Is growth "a burden" that costs us money, or is growth the cash cow that buys us everything? The answer, it seems, is what ever sounds best for whatever political goal they happen to have at the moment.

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