Wednesday Feb 02 2011
Business owners angry over increases
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
Two Rocklin business owners looking to the city for relief from a revamped sign ordinance said they’ve been hit instead with another blow by the city as fees for services are going up. The Rocklin City Council voted unanimously Jan. 25 to update the city’s fee schedule for services, which includes everything from picking up dead animals, street name changes and permits for doing business in the city. “We try to recapture the cost of running government,” Mayor George Magnuson said. What has drawn the attention is the cost increases for businesses already strapped for cash in a down economy. According to the city, no new fees were created but 36 percent of the fees on the books actually increased by an average of 12 percent. Twenty-nine percent of fees went down by an average of 10 percent, while the rest remained the same. That’s something long-time Rock-Land Music owner Van Morin said is unacceptable. “There shouldn’t be any kind of increase of costs if the city wants to maintain the existence of the present businesses,” Morin said. “If someone is going into business in this town, it’s the last thing they need.” For example, a conditional use review modification has gone up $583 and now costs $6,185, according to city documents. Rocklin City Councilman Brett Storey said he wants more reform. “Several small businesses call me. They don’t understand them and when they did understand them, it’s still a barrier perhaps to a small business to get into a facility and get all these permits in the order of $10,000 and up and in today’s market — that’s tough,” Storey said. Storey voted for the fee increase. Another increase getting attention is the cost of the city to review a sign design, which is now going up by $390 to $4,233, according to city documents. That change will now force Chef’s Table restaurant owner David Hill to delay his new sign even further. “I’m in the process of getting a new sign so I’m going to go through the process,” Hill said. “When you add on the cost of the sign, it’s $10,000 to $15,000. It’s like the city is trying to choke small businesses to death.” Hill said his lack of signage has frustrated customers looking for his restaurant, which serves burgers and gourmet dishes located at Blue Oaks and Lonetree boulevards ever since he opened. “I commissioned an artist to make a rod-iron patina cut out sign that was going to be back-lit. But (the city) made us take it down,” Hill said. Hill uses a banner made possible after the city temporary relaxed rules on banners and A-frame signs for what they called “economic stimulus.” Hill said city leaders don’t get it. “If they really campaign on trying to help out small business and being business friendly, they need to do something than just make it more difficult for us to operate.” Rocklin City Councilman Scott Yuill, who was just re-elected to a second term in November and ran on a platform of making Rocklin more business friendly, expressed an interest in getting the sign ordinance revamped. “The direction we were going was to bring more clarity to applicants to make it easier to streamline that process,” Yuill said. “It’s so they know better going in what would be approved and what wouldn’t be approved so as to not force people into a design review process to put up a sign.” Yuill voted for the fee increase. Morin said it was inappropriate for the city to change the fees before a promised revamped sign ordinance. “They should go on a policy of encouraging people to come into business,” Morin said. “They are discouraging as they always have.” City staff used the requirements set by the FY 2010/2011 city budget and a special software program to develop the fee amounts, according to the city. Magnuson said the staff spent a lot of time analyzing the fee structure and with the recent restructuring of city departments, it was time for a change. “People who pay the fees get upset, but the people who expect us to run efficiently get upset if we don’t increase our fees, so it’s a fine line you have to walk,” Magnuson said. The sign ordinance issues are expected to be addressed at a joint meeting between the city council and the planning commission expected to take place within the next two months. “We are trying to simplify the sign ordinance a little bit,” Magnuson said. The second reading of the ordinance for the fees change is Feb. 8. The complete fees schedule is available at City Hall or on the city’s website at www.rocklin.ca.gov.