A new fee tacked to water and sewer bills introduced by Astoria City Councilor Cindy Price, supported by the majority and opposed by councilor Zetty Nemlowill this week has Facebook abuzz and has become a hot topic in coffee shop talk. Price proposed the $3 fee as a way to deal with a budget deficit in the Parks and Recreation Department.
The popular city department, that is responsible for acres of city parks and trails including the river walk, the Aquatic Center, recreational programs and events and, the Ocean View Cemetery, is about $100,000 short of what it needs to operate.
The new charge would be billed per residential water meter as an add-on but those on low income utility assistance will not see that added to their bill. Commercial businesses are not included in the new fee. Price was concerned that people who live in town and own a business would end up seeing that fee twice. The process for figuring out who should be charged that business parks fee would be complex and staff intensive which was not the intend of the concept.
Nemlowill voted against the proposal saying while she is supportive of parks she fails to see any connection between water service and city parks and rec that would justify the fee being billed in that fashion. Nemlowill added that she thinks follow-through on the recommendations of the recently completed parks master plan would help cure the department's ills.
Mayor LaMear asked that the proposed three year sunset, or end of the fee, be changed to one year. A compromise provides a review of the fee in one year.
Many people don't believe the fee will ever end and some remark it will likely increase over time as the Parks Department struggles to meet high public demand and resistance to cutting back on city owned properties by selling them. Parks patrons tend to champion the fee wondering if the alternative might be the loss of more services raising the popular argument that the Aquatic Center might close if something isn't done immediately to resolve the budget deficit.
Taken together with new garbage rates to cover trash pick up in city parks, increases in rates and fees going into effect for just about every city service including increases for Parks and Rec, the library, and pages of other fee increases, Astoria for many becomes less affordable and more exclusive to higher income residents.