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City Council: Rental owners protest fees

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A group of property owners and managers told the City Council during public commentary Tuesday night that fees for rental property inspections are too high.

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The law requires an inspection every three years to keep a housing license valid.

"We're getting charged too much at $80 per unit," said Marilyn Morgan, who manages the 52-unit Heritage Square apartments.

She said the estimated two minutes an inspector spent inside each apartment was not worth the $4,160 the owner would pay. Morgan suggested a private service would likely do a more thorough job for less money, saying the fee had already been high at $40.

Tyler Boles said he manages properties for several owners and called other cities to compare their prices to River Falls. He said many have no fee, and in a comparable college town, Menomonie, the fee was $20-$30 per year.

"In other, similar towns, the cost is much less," said Boles.

Diane Weiss, who manages the 154-unit Riverside and River Place apartments, said owners had described the old $40 fee as outrageous. She said the increase puts a hardship on tenants as well as owners.

"The average rate is about $11 per unit," said Weiss.

Morgan had a 2006 letter from Finance Director Julie Bergstrom explaining that the city had conducted a fee study then estimated costs based on information the inspectors provided, that it's about 1.25 hours of their time per inspection, which (then) was worth $49.

Another in the group said he requested an itemized list of what the fee includes and said it seems as though the fee should cover two units.

Morgan spoke on the managers' and owners' behalf and asked the council to investigate, saying the group would return.

Find a full schedule of the city's fees online at www.rfcity.org, click on information, scroll down, click on fee schedule.

Action, e-mail

The City Council spent most of its first meeting at the new City Hall in a closed session. Before it recessed, council members approved the ambulance service to hire four volunteer EMTs, asking if the people were budgeted (yes) and could the service exceed the budget without the council's approval (no).

Mayor Don Richards also read an e-mail from a lady he says he doesn't know, praising the beauty of the new City Hall, lauding its architect and welcoming it as a sign that River Falls is not only moving into the 21st century but also thriving.

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