Feb 09, 2021 Council Meeting and Work Session Update

Agenda (click to open)

Work Session

This work session discussed the basics of development. How a typical development works from concept review, through preliminary review, and to final. Lots of terms, lots of rules, lots of stuff.

Item I (Contract Default)

This is an odd one. When a development is started, part of the condition of starting it is the developer must provide funds available to the city (Letter of Credit) so that if the developer doesn't fulfill their agreement, there is enough money there to complete some of the agreed-upon tasks. In this case, the development was approved back in 2016 but some of the work wasn't completed.

Item M (Council stipend)

The discussion surrounding this occurred at the Jan 26th meeting. This was just to approve what was decided. You can see my post on that here. This ended up being pulled from the agenda though due to questions about where it's being funded.

Item N 

Well house #4. This well is roughly across from Stephen's park. It will provide backup for the central water system. I believe the well house will also be set up to provide some sheltering for the River Hills park by June 30.

Item O (Fee Schedule)

This was the heavy item. This was originally on the Jan 26th agenda but to try to balance things out it was moved to this agenda.

The fee schedule defines the fees we charge for most, if not all, services the city provides.

For those of you that have followed me, you know that I've taken aim at some of the fees residents pay to improve their property. The council was able to tackle some of those last year and I am hoping to again this year... but in the mean time the fee schedule is getting a lot of attention for other reasons.

By law, fees are supposed to cover the cost incurred by the city to provide the service. When I first got on council, a number of builders were telling me Dayton was charging too much for building permits and plan fees. When I and another council member brought this up, we were shown all of the services the city has to provide for those fees. The problem was, I had no way to objectively know which side was correct.

A builder's group has started putting pressure on a number of cities to justify their fees (specifically the permit and plan review fees). Their claim is that Dayton is one of the few cities they're targeting that continually makes a profit on our fees.

The fact is, we have. In the past couple of years we have placed a significant amount of money, due in large part to underspending on those fees, into our temp fund. For 2019, we charged $1.5M in fees (for 290 homes) and ended up placing about $500k of that into our temp fund. For 2020, we are likely to place even more into that fund (we did 350 homes).

I believe the real question is, why are we showing that much profit on these fees. Some is likely due to not allocating the costs accurately, and some (I'm told) is due to the expenses not being linear. In other words, we're making a lot of money due to building significantly more houses than we predicted. I'm not sure what that non-linear component is, but that's the argument.

To try to get our fees more in line with what the city is spending, last December we passed a change to the fee schedule to set the plan fees at a fixed amount. Assuming we did the same number of houses we did in 2019, that change would effectively wipe out the $500k in profit. Unfortunately, it has a number of problems associated with it, having to do with the complexities in how the fees work for various developments. And, a few of us still believe it doesn't meet the overall requirement in that it isn't very balanced.

Hence, the fee schedule discussion. Historically, the planning fee is 65% of the building fee. It's actually more complicated than that but we'll leave it simple. What we did last December was to force it to a flat fee of $500. What we're likely to do at this point is to move it to 25%. The result is roughly the same reduction, but it spreads it out better.

The bottom line is, our build numbers have varied wildly over the past 4 years. And, if a few of us get our way, we are hoping to make those numbers more predictable over the next few years (and lower). If we can't get a handle on our costs, we could be in a world of trouble if we go very far into the red.

It was also made clear during this discussion there are three closely topics we need to explore in the near future; Is the city providing the services (and quality) it is mandated to provide, are the fees in line with the cost of those services, and what are we allowed to use those overages for. That last topic is messy. State statute says that fees have to fairly represent the cost of those services, yet it doesn't dictate where any shortfall can come from or where any overage can go to. Clearly there's more discussion to come...