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Sonoma County to consider wide range of fee hikes

A cash-strapped Sonoma County government is set to raise fees Tuesday for a wide range of services and facilities, including veterans buildings, planning and engineering permits and some park uses.

The proposed hikes are meant to recover a larger share of the county's costs, ranging from about 30 percent with the veterans buildings to about 80 percent at the planning department.

The increases are also to make up for declining support from the county's main pot of money, which faces a $42.3 million shortfall in the next fiscal year.

County supervisors are to vote on the fees following their annual hearing on the issue at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The most controversial increases are likely to be those proposed for the veterans buildings.

Rental rates at the seven veterans facilities — used by nearly 200 community groups for events and classes each year — are set to climb by 30 to 70 percent under the proposal. Nonprofits, which currently pay the lowest rents, would be charged the same as all other outside groups under the proposal. Their increases could more than double in some cases.

Community leaders said the fee increases could send them packing.

“That definitely would limit our use of the hall, as far as I can see,” said Donald Tarpley, first vice president of the North Bay Italian Cultural Foundation. The group rents a dining room at the Santa Rosa vets building every month for $32 an hour. Under the proposal, that would jump to $55 an hour, a hike of 71 percent.

Increases for nonprofits renting rooms at other buildings, including Petaluma, Guerneville, Cloverdale and Cotati would top 200 percent.

Public use hours would also be reduced, effectively closing the facilities to all but non-regular users in Cotati, Cloverdale and Guerneville. Petaluma's building would be open only on Friday and Saturday while Sebastopol's and Sonoma's would be open when staffing is available. Santa Rosa's building would continue to operate seven days a week.

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