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Some fees to use Niagara Falls golf course going up next year

NIAGARA FALLS – Some fees to use Hyde Park Golf Course are going up next year.

And many inspection permit fees from City Hall have been raised, with some new ones added, too.

These appear to be part of the fallout from the disjointed city budget process lawmakers and Mayor Paul A. Dyster recently completed.

The bottom line is the City of Niagara Falls is facing financial challenges, and one way to deal with them is to try to increase revenue by raising fees.

The City Council last week approved the fee hikes, which were supported by the mayor, in two separate 3-2 votes.

In terms of golf course fees, the season pass for those with disabilities will rise from $500 to $600. Golfers also will have to pay $100 more for season passes to use a golf cart, while the fee to play the Red Nine course will rise from $5 to $9. Buckets of golf balls at the driving range are also going up in price by $1 per bucket.

Supporters said the increases will be used to help fund improvements at the municipal course, the operations of which will be subsidized with tax dollars next year by more than $400,000, according to the city budget.

In October, lawmakers tabled a measure to pay for the installation of a paved golf cart path at the course because of concerns with the city’s finances.

Councilman Andrew P. Touma said he believes many of the course’s fees are a little below the fees at other municipal courses in the area. Touma said he spoke about the issue with David James, the golf course manager, who had discussions with some golfers about the course’s fees.

“He realized the fees haven’t been increased for some time and the increased revenue we could put back into the course,” he said.

Touma, who sponsored the measure to increase the golf fees, said he did not have an estimate for how much new revenue the fees may bring in next year. He sponsored two amendments during the budget process to increase expected revenue from the golf course next year by a total of $13,000, but they were defeated by his colleagues.

Council Chairman Charles A. Walker and Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti joined Touma in supporting the increases, while Councilmen Robert A. Anderson Jr. and Glenn A. Choolokian voted against them.

Choolokian said the increases weren’t “a bad idea,” but to increase the fees at the Council’s last meeting of the year was “not the right time,” adding that he believes there should be more conversation on the issue.

Dyster, who described user fees as the most progressive form of a tax since the people using the service are the ones who will face the increases, said the city wants to keep the course affordable for working-class people and retirees, while also maintaining high standards at the course so it remains a competitive place to play golf.

“When we have to raise fees, we try to be certain that we’re also making improvements to the course so people are getting something for their money,” the mayor said.

In terms of the new and increasing permit fees, officials said the impact will be more on the commercial construction side compared with the residential side.

The fee increases come with the recommendation of Dennis F. Virtuoso, acting director of code enforcement, who raised the issue during budget deliberations. Supporters of the increases said the city has kept fees below those of other municipalities’ and hasn’t raised them in some time.

Touma, who also sponsored these changes, said the city had “room to increase” the fees.

The increases apply to a wide range of permits, including to build new commercial or industrial buildings, demolitions, installing large liquid containers, as well as general remodeling, siding and roofing.

Some of the fees are for billboards and other signs, site plan applications, rezoning applications, as well as copies of planning and zoning documents.

Virtuoso, who is retiring at the end of the year, said he expects the city would see about $80,000 in new revenue because of the fee increases.