- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

D.C. residents will soon pay more for almost every municipal service as officials increase fees and fines to cut into a projected $323 million deficit this year.
More than 500 fees and fines in nine city agencies have increased, according to the official D.C. Register. The increases are expected to generate an additional $129.4 million.
Nearly every permit, fee or fine has been raised this year, including dramatically higher parking fines and increased fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Those increases followed a vote by D.C. Council members to exempt themselves from restrictions on curbside parking anywhere in the city except during rush hour, in loading zones, crosswalks, no-parking zones or adjacent to fire stations or fire hydrants. Ten members of the D.C. Council Carol Schwartz, Kevin Chavous, Jack Evans, Sandra Allen, Adrian Fenty, David Catania, Jim Graham, Harold Brazil, Vincent Orange and Linda W. Cropp voted to exempt themselves. Phil Mendelson, Kathy Patterson and Sharon Ambrose voted against the special privileges. Mayor Anthony A. Williams approved the exemptions.
Not every city official thinks raising fees is the answer to the District's budget problem.
"You cannot fee your way out of a deficit," says Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who thinks residents will go outside the city, for example, to open a store or hold a company picnic. Increasing D.C. taxes on cigarettes and alcohol would have the same effect, he says. "All you're doing is taking in more money at a decreased rate," Mr. Evans says.
However, he thinks reducing nonessential services is better than cutting at "the big four: schools, public safety, health and human services."
The budget deficit has grown by about $143 million since he proposed spending cuts as an alternative to fee increases and a reduction in income and business taxes to make them competitive with those in Maryland and Virginia by 2006.
Maryland and Virginia also are struggling with budget deficits, but only Virginia has proposed fee increases. Lawmakers there want to close the state's $2.1 billion deficit by increasing motor-vehicle fees and by raising the prices of alcoholic beverages by 5 percent at Alcohol Beverage Control stores.
If Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, signs the budget agreement, the cost of a Virginia driver's license, for example, would increase from $15 to $20. If he does not, lawmakers will return to Richmond on April 2 for a special one-day veto session.
In Maryland, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, talked during his election campaign about increasing fees and the gasoline tax, but he has not made a formal proposal to use them to close a roughly $2 billion deficit expected over the next 16 months.
Mr. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, says the increases are not necessary for the District. He does not support increases for such services as attending summer camps, renting a conference room or taking a guided nature hike.
"The recreation facilities are our pipeline to residents, and we don't want to treat them like a business," he says.
Contractors and developers also will pay. Fees for electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation permits have increased, as have most other construction-related fees.
D.C. officials have said the increases and a $27 million surplus from fiscal 2002 will trim the shortfall to roughly $68 million.
However, Mr. Williams says he continues to look for further spending cuts.
The plan he proposed last week to save $231 million included closing 12 public pools and suspending or closing 20 of 98 D.C. recreation programs or centers.
Mr. Chavous responded by saying the cutbacks on pools and recreation activities were "off the table." "We're going to hold the line on those cuts. It's not going to happen," says Mr. Chavous, chairman of the District's Committee on Parks and Recreation, Education and Libraries.
Mr. Evans says cutbacks should have happened last year because city spending has increased too much in the past four years. Council members last year considered cutting salaries for about 100 managers and directors earning more than $100,000.
The Williams administration defended the size of those salaries, saying they were not the real problem. "What we're doing, fixing the problem now, is better than what Maryland and Virginia and many other states have done waiting until the debt is in the hundreds of millions of dollars before they do anything to fix it," says Williams spokesman Tony Bullock.

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