The County of Santa Clara
California

Report
93926

Approve recommendation from the Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency to modify Weed Abatement Program fees changing the Annual Inspection fee from $90 to $80; the Second Inspection fee from $583 to $495; and the Contract Work fee from $576 to $806.

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Department:Consumer and Environmental Protection AgencySponsors:
Category:Report

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COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS

Legislative File #93661, Annual Report regarding the Weed Abatement Program, including proposed FY20 fee changes, was considered at the October 18, 2018 Housing, Land Use, Environment, and Transportation Committee and was approved on the consent calendar.

FISCAL IMPLICATIONS

The Weed Abatement Program is currently structured as a non-General Fund Program.  The recommended fee changes are needed to keep this program at cost recovery. Estimated revenue for FY20 is $605,019. Ongoing revenue will be determined based on the number of parcels within the Weed Abatement Program, which varies each year.

REASONS FOR RECOMMENDATION

The Weed Abatement Program is structured to be full cost recovery.  Program revenue comes from fees that are charged for the abatement of weeds from parcels that are non-compliant with the minimum fire safety standards. 

Each calendar year, weed abatement work begins in March and continues through the end of October.  Expenses for work completed prior to June 30 will be incurred in FY19, but the revenue for this work is collected through the property tax roll in FY20.  Because of the timing of the tax roll billing process, staff must account for the delayed revenue when making program budget and fund balance projections.

Program fees and projected changes

Program fees are calculated from estimates of projected workload and County costs.  The Program has been successful in increasing voluntary compliance, and the number of non-compliant parcels in the Program is projected to reduce by 6% in FY20.  Even though there is a marginal reduction in inspections, the fixed costs remain relatively constant; the effect of the program has helped to eliminate parcels where the owners demonstrate ongoing compliance, therefore, the percentage of parcels needing abatement by the County is increasing. Program fees are needed to fully offset costs. The 2018 Weed Abatement Annual Report was heard at the October 18, 2018 HLUET meeting. At that time Staff estimated the number of parcels in the program to be approximately 2,000. It was later determined that the count was actually 2,350 for FY20. This increase in parcels to the program combined with a needed redistribution of time across each process allowed us to spread the cost over a greater number of non-compliant parcels, resulting in different fees then was previously brought forward to HLUET.

The Agency is seeking approval to change the following three Programs fees: 

1.     The annual compliance fee would decrease from $90 to $80.  This fee is charged to all parcels inspected in the program.  Parcels are placed in the program due to non-compliance of the minimum fire safety standards at least once in the last three years. These parcels are monitored each year by Program staff, and the fee recovers the cost for data entry, file preparation, noticing, boundary determination, and overhead costs.  Parcels are removed from the Program once they have satisfied three consecutive years of compliance with fire standards.   

2.     The second inspection fee would decrease from $583 to $495. This fee, assessed when the property fails the first inspection and must be re-inspected, recovers costs for additional inspections, noticing, and administrative costs.

3.     The contract work administration fee would increase from $576 to $806.  This fee is assessed when the property fails the second inspection and a contractor is assigned to clear the weeds.  It is in addition to the contractor’s direct cost to abate weeds on the property and recovers County costs of monitoring the contractor, billing, and performance standards.

Below is a chart indicating the historical number of parcels in the program and the associated fees.

Effective Date

Number   of Parcels

Annual Compliance Fee

Second Inspection Non-compliance

Contractor Work

Percent Increase

FY12 to FY16

3,450

$41

$250

$169

0%

FY16

3,846

$55

$449

$335

71%

FY17

3,236

$60

$485

$434

16%

FY18

2,561

$90

$583

$576

34%

FY19

2,350

$80

$495

$806

11%

 

For costs associated with the agreement between the County of Santa Clara and Imhof Tractor Service Inc., the County’s weed abatement service provider, the contracted services portion of the cost will remain flat or decrease slightly for FY18.     

The proposed fees have been reviewed and approved by the Controller-Treasurer for compliance with cost accounting guidelines.  

The proposed fees will apply to all parcels in the Program.  Under the County’s contract with the participating cities, the cities will receive a 60-days’ notice of the fee changes and, unless they opt out of the Program within that 60 days, the fees will be assessed. The new fee schedule will be included in the annual notification package that is mailed to all parcel owners in the Program.  The package also contains the Agency’s contact information should parcel owners have questions, and this information will be included on the County’s Weed Abatement website at www.sccgov.org/sites/wap.

It should be noted that if the abatement non-compliance rate continues to decline, neither the current fees nor the proposed fees would be adequate to sustain funding for the Program into the future. Since a fundamental Program goal is to educate the public about the minimum fire safety requirements and to ensure all property owners are compliant, the lowering of the non-compliance rate illustrates that the message is being received and that the Program is working. It is projected that only 188 parcels out of 2,350 requiring abatement by the County contractor would receive a fee increase. As the Board requested at the November 17, 2015 meeting, staff re-examine fees annually to ensure cost recovery.

Amended contracts with participating jurisdictions

This County currently administers this program for 13 jurisdictions including most of the cities in the county, with no cost to the participating jurisdictions. While provision of weed abatement services is specified in State law, there is no mandate to have a program. The decision to have a program is an option, jurisdictions can implement to enhance fire safety.

On November 2015, the Agency informed the Board of the intention to amend the contracts with the participating jurisdictions to include a clause stating that if the Program does not recover their costs for the year by collecting the fees, the jurisdictions will be responsible for a prorated cost. The Agency has nearly completed the negotiations of these amendments and intends to bring these to the Board of Supervisors for consideration within the next year.

Currently, in addition to unincorporated County areas the following 12 jurisdictions participate in the Program:

Jurisdiction

 

City of Campbell

City of Morgan Hill

City of Cupertino

City of Gilroy

Los Altos Hills County Fire District

City of Palo Alto

Town of Los Gatos

City of San José

City of Milpitas

City of Santa Clara

City of Monte Sereno

City of Saratoga

 

CHILD IMPACT

The Recommended Action impacts the Safe and Stable Families indicator by maintaining minimum fire safety standards and effort to keep children and youth safe from fire dangers.

SENIOR IMPACT

The Recommended Action will have a positive impact on seniors by maintaining minimum fire safety standards and effort to keep seniors safe from fire dangers.

SUSTAINABILITY IMPLICATIONS

The intent of the Weed Abatement Program is to reduce the risk of spreading fire from wildland or from rubbish to structures. Sustainability implications associated with this program include improved air quality, reduced resources used to rebuild homes, native plant species and habitats protected and water conservation when fires are prevented, and homes are protected.

BACKGROUND

Each year, the Board of Supervisors declares weeds, brush or rubbish a public nuisance on certain described properties in the unincorporated areas as part of a fire prevention program and authorizes the nuisance to be abated by the Weed Abatement Program. After three years of demonstrated compliance, parcels are removed from the Program.

Program staff inspects parcels throughout the fire season to ensure compliance with minimum fire safety standards.

Revenue is generated from fees charged for the inspection and abatement of weeds from parcels that fail to comply with the minimum fire safety standards. On December 12, 2017, the Board approved an increase in the fees charged to property owners in the Program.  The increased fees became effective in FY18 and resulted in a small positive fund balance by the end of FY18.

In October 2008, the Program anticipated an FY09 fund balance deficit of approximately $20,000, and a deficit of $100,000 in FY10 if the fee for the annual compliance inspection (or second inspection) of $298 was not implemented. The Board approved implementation of this fee, which was in addition to the administrative fee (of 150% plus the contractor fee) for property owners that had their property abated by the County contractor.

In 2010, the City of Morgan Hill requested an evaluation of the County fee to consider proposing a more equitable fee schedule for work involved. The main concern was the 150% administrative fee added to the contractor’s abatement costs, as this mechanism resulted in very high charges levied against just a few parcel owners (for the larger parcels). Working with the City of Morgan Hill, the Agency developed the fees which were approved by the Board of Supervisors on November 2, 2010. These fees were more equitable and appropriate.

When the work is completed, the County’s Hearing Officer confirms the report stating that unpaid charges constitute special assessments for the costs to be placed on the Tax Roll and become a lien on the respective properties. The same process is followed in each of the 12 contract cities participating in the County Program for the properties in their jurisdiction.

The Agency mails notices to each property owner that fails to comply with the weed abatement standards. The property owners are advised that weeds must be removed and that public hearings will be set for objections to the proposed abatement.

CONSEQUENCES OF NEGATIVE ACTION

Weed Abatement Program fees would not be updated, and the Program would not be full cost recovery requiring General Fund subsidy in order to continue services. The Program currently operates at a minimum staffing level and cannot sustain further reductions without either elimination or significant reduction of services (i.e., only provide service to the unincorporated areas within the County, and/or minimize the Program to be complaint-driven service only).

STEPS FOLLOWING APPROVAL

The Clerk of the Board will notify Nidia Aguirre, Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency. 

 

Meeting History

Dec 18, 2018 9:30 AM Video Board of Supervisors Regular Meeting
RESULT:APPROVED [UNANIMOUS]
MOVER:Ken Yeager, Supervisor
SECONDER:Mike Wasserman, Supervisor
AYES:Mike Wasserman, Cindy Chavez, Dave Cortese, Ken Yeager, S. Joseph Simitian