Although property and sales taxes are the most well-known revenue generators for local governments, revenues from "user fees" are becoming an increasingly important funding source. The fees can provide extra revenues for projects in tight budget times.
"Kansas counties are increasingly applying user fees to such 'nonessential' local government services as parks and recreation, libraries and public transportation, where they have more flexibility setting rates," stated K-State's 2013 "Fiscal Conditions and Trends" report for Harvey County. "... By charging only the beneficiaries of a service, fees provide an alternative to the often unpopular property tax."
"User fees are an important source of revenue," agreed Anthony Swartzendruber, assistant administrator and finance director for the county — though adding all county revenues "are important." "... User fees, in addition to all non-property tax funding sources, take pressure off the local property tax as a funding source for the county."
So, what are "user fees"? Some user fees — such as motor vehicle and mortgage registration fees — are required by state law. Other examples are utility charges and solid waste tipping fees.
According to the K-State report, data from the 1997 and 2007 Census of Governments indicates between 1987 and 2007, county government user charges more than tripled, from almost $26 billion to more than $80 billion. By 2007, user fees accounted for 17 percent of total U.S. county revenue and 24 percent of total Kansas county revenue.
Swartzendruber said the county generated $4,222,815 in user fees in 2012 (includes user fees paid by individuals and fees paid by entities, such as the federal government, state government, cities, etc.).
Mirroring the state report, the amount collected from user fees in Harvey County increased between 2010 and 2012. The approximate percentage of total Harvey County revenue that user fees account for is 19 percent (2011 total revenues).
The user fees that have generated the most revenue in Harvey County the last three years are solid waste fees and federal correctional fees, though this can vary.
"It depends on the year," Swartzendruber said.