Council Gives City Officials & Boards Ability to Set Fees, Wants Further Study on Enforcing Fees & Fines

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Watertown City Hall

Tuesday night the City Council gave other city boards and certain City employees the ability to set “reasonable rates” for fees without getting approval from the City Council. In another item, the Council sent the item that would enforce fees and fines by attaching them to tax bills with a municipal lien to a committee for more discussion.

City Manager George Proakis said that in other communities where he has worked certain fees could be changed by boards or “officers,” or designated city employees without going to the Council for a vote.

“I am always looking for opportunities to create more efficient and effective processes to address the way that we work through the issues in city government,” Proakis said.

He said the change allows the Watertown government to be more “flexible and creative in the way that we ensure that fees match services.”

He added that the fees cannot just be increased as a way to generate revenue for the city.

“It does not remove the expectation that when a fee that is set, it is supposed to cover the work covered by the fee, meaning that we aren’t establishing extensive fees to generate general fund revenue,” Proakis said. “They are essentially intended to cover the cost of whatever review or whatever process or circumstance of which an item goes under.”

The Council voted unanimously to adopt the provision allowed under Mass. General Law Ch. 40 subsection 22F.

Another state statute brought before the Council was not voted on Tuesday. It would have allowed the City to put a municipal lien on a property tax bill for 14 different fines and fees.

Proakis said the move was intended to give more teeth to the enforcement of City regulations such as the noise ordinance, the historical district ordinance, or the wetlands ordinance. People would not be able to ignore a fine or fee, he said.

Councilor John Gannon, who has served as a city attorney in Watertown and other communities, said that he was concerned that state law does not allow for attaching fines to a municipal lien. He suggested that the issue be studied more.

Council President Mark Sideris recommended that the item be studied further, and made a motion to refer it to the Council’s Committee on Rules & Ordinances. The Council voted unanimously to do so.

2 thoughts on “Council Gives City Officials & Boards Ability to Set Fees, Wants Further Study on Enforcing Fees & Fines

  1. This is the Council running away from its responsibility and handing it off to unelected bureaucrats that don’t have to face the voters. So no the Councilors will not have to face angry voters when unpopular fines and fees are levied to enhance revenues.

  2. Allowing city boards and certain officials to set fees and fines is a really bad idea. It’s difficult to even consider how this proposal has any merit. Making government more efficient is a worthy but how this would increase efficiency is a dubious proposition at best. Removing the council from this critical responsibility and oversight function would reduce transparency and effective citizen control over these critically important financial functions. How would a resident contest a fee or fine as unreasonable, capricious or unfair? And why leave it to an individual to fight city hall? Our elected representatives should be responsive and held responsible.
    This proposal is a non-starter and it’s difficult to understand how it needs to be studied.
    If efficiency is to be valued let’s not waste time and tax resources on such a blatantly bad idea.

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