Well, it’s official now. The Albany City Council has adopted a new “city services fee” — or utility tax if you will — to help support its general fund, which pays for police, fire protection, parks, libraries and planning, among other things.
The vote Wednesday night was 5-1. The lone no vote was that of Councilwoman Matilda Novak.
Novak believes the fee is not sustainable because all the things pushing city expenses higher — “that’s the system and the way it is,” she paraphrased the prevailing attitude — will continue to do so. And unless the system is repaired, the only thing future councils can do is to raise the fee in coming years.
Novak pushed for at least a one-month delay in starting the new charge, which will be added to monthly utility bills, hoping that by then the state would let all businesses return to normal operations so the fee would not hit them as hard. But her motion to that effect lost 2-4, with only Councilman Dick Olsen joining her.
The new fee takes effect July 1 and is estimated to yield $5 million during the 2021-23 two-year budget period.
For residential households, it’s an additional $9 a month. For apartment complexes it’s $7.50 a month per unit. For utility customers such as businesses, from restaurants all the way to supermarkets and big industries, the added monthly expense depends on the size of their water meters.
The council also voted to apply a low-income discount the same as now exists for water bills, but to work on improving that program to cover more people, a process the staff said would take several months to work out.
It’s hard to explain exactly why the city insists on calling this a fee and not a tax. Either way, though, Albany utility customers will have to pay it or, eventually, have their water cut off. (hh)