Talking About Fees: Council Thoroughly Examining the Issue

What a fascinating discussion it was by the Town Council about the various fees that are charged by the town for various permits, certificates, inspections, and other town services.

Residents watching on WCAT had to be impressed by how the councilors debated some of the reasonable increases in cost for the various fees, some of which haven’t been raised in years. We also were impressed with the manner in which Town Manager James McKenna came to the defense of his departments when it may have been inferred that the department heads might not have done a thorough analysis of the fee structure and the work that goes into the various tasks undertaken by inspectors.

The discussion prompted former Councilor Jeanne Maggio, who was watching the Council meeting at home, to come to the Joseph Harvey Hearing Room to air her concerns that councilors were targeting the Board of Health for their proposed fee schedule. Having served on the Council committee that worked with the Board of Health – not to mention her wonderful work with the Medical Reserve Corps – Maggio has in-depth knowledge of the many important functions of the town’s Health Department. A thorough inspection of a store’s refrigeration and dairy products takes time and we’re sure businesses understand the work that goes into such a vital task.

Councilor Russell Sanford, a business owner himself, took up the plight of the business owners in town when he offered his thought that even a small increase in a fee can matter a lot to a business’s bottom line in this economy. And while Councilor Craig Mael offered a reasonable suggestion that the fees be raised automatically by approximately two per cent each year, we’re glad that the Council, and specifically Councilor-at-Large Philip Boncore, negated the idea by speaking about a year in which there may be “flat inflation,” and thus any increases in fees would not be the right course to take.

Perhaps the best part of the discussion came when the $10 fee for a live music permit was mentioned and Police Chief Terence Delehanty rose from his seat to tell the Council that for each permit taken out, a background check has to be done for the band members, the decibel level in the room or outdoor area must be evaluated (so as not to anger neighbors with too much noise), and there always can be an issue with the capacity of a venue, although that might fall under Fire Chief Paul Flanagan’s jurisdiction.

But the general point was well made and quite clear: For every fee there is a corresponding amount of work that must be done by our town department heads and employees.

Once again Town Manager James McKenna has shown excellent leadership in conducting an open discussion about the fees. Everyone had an opportunity to state his/her opinion and we will soon have a fee structure that everyone can agree on. James McKenna was well prepared for the unexpected deluge of questions about the various fees and the length of the discussion surprised many – but it shows that this town manager and this Town Council take every issue seriously for the best interests of all residents.

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