Regulating city fee waiversAug 07, 2022 08:46PM ● By Erin Dixon
By Erin Dixon | [email protected]
In recent years, the West Jordan City Council has waived city property rental fees for nonprofit organizations such as baseball leagues and fundraising events.
The justification has been that the city wants to help support residents in building their community, and typically the organizations provide service instead of paying fees.
The city council office is seeking to streamline the process for waiving fees and had a long conversation at a pre-council meeting in July.
“It takes staff time …to estimate the cost [of the waiver],” Chief Administrative Officer Korban Lee said to the council.
Council Chair Kayleen Whitelock used to deny fee waivers regularly, while the rest of the council members approved them. In the past, she said it was taking money away from residents in a way she didn’t feel comfortable with.
“As I speak with residents it seems many of them are fine with having our facilities used,” Whitelock said.
Her hope is that some of the fees will be changed to better match value of use.
“I did ask and will be putting on a future agenda a review of our fees as some seem to need adjusting in my mind.”
Council Office Director Alan Anderson, also a former council member, suggested having a form that each requestor would fill out to help streamline the process.
“Everybody would be able to fill out an application,” Anderson said. “So the council can approve on a case-by-case basis.”
Whitelock is in favor of more equal opportunity for fee waivers.
“The part I do agree with is we need a system that is more streamlined and equal, it should not matter who is filling out the form,” Whitelock said.
There has been no formal process for bringing the fee waiver proposals to the council.
Several council members are in favor of fee waivers in general, as long as whoever is requesting doesn’t make any money from the event they are hosting.
Councilmember Kelvin Green stated that he likes to waive fees only when the city benefits in some way, either physically or intrinsically.
“Service-in-lieu-of-fees is one way that it benefits the city,” Green said. “And there might be other ways it benefits the city.”
For example, some baseball leagues install better bleachers at baseball diamonds with their own time and money. The waiving of the usage fee makes that improvement possible.
Not all benefits are tangible like the bleachers, but may come in the form of attracting more people to the city who then visit the businesses nearby.
“The one we did for the Jordan Education Foundation, the service-in-lieu-of-fees was very small…but there were some benefits for the city, it attracted a significant amount of people to the city. It was a valid fee waiver,” Green said.
Some fee waiver requests are only for a few hundred dollars. Lee proposed that the mayor’s office could have granting power for those lower fees, leaving the bigger requests for the council.
“Frequently we have requests to use a city room, which technically we should charge for, to reserve a park pavilion, dumpsters [for] a couple hundred dollars,” Lee said.
Currently the mayor’s office will not grant fee waivers, but sends requests to the council. Some drop the request or just pay the bill themselves.
“I don’t think we care [who has the power to decide],” Lee said. “We don’t want to be upside down with the staff time being more than the amount being requested.”
At the end of the discussion, Councilmember Zach Jacob suggested the process needed to protect the residents from discrimination from any council decision.
“If we waive it for some people and not for others then you have a 14th amendment problem,” Jacob said.
City Attorney Rob Wall recommended that the new process be presented to the public in a hearing.
“What I’ve seen in other cities, the council also designates what type of service so you don’t get discrimination,” Wall said. “If you do open up a facility for rental, you can’t deny them based on message. The way you accomplish [this] is by holding a hearing to establish the quid pro quo.”