By Betsy Dolan
Tempers flared at the July 16 Missouri City Council meeting after a heated discussion over a proposed $20 increase in a sign permit fee. Council members were considering a resolution to adopt a new schedule of fees that pertain to signs such as permits, plan reviews and site inspections. The discussion largely divided the council into two camps–those who felt the fee put a burden on small businesses and those who say higher fees are necessary to recoup the city’s costs associated with sign permits and paperwork.
At issue, was a proposed increase in the sign permit plan review which Gary Smith, Director of Development Services, said would increase from $30 to $50. Almost immediately Councilman Danny Ngyuen proposed a motion to keep the fee the same, citing his concern that raising the costs sends the wrong message to small business owners.
“This is not the time to create an additional burden on business owners,” Ngyuen said. “We can’t contradict ourselves with vowing to be pro-business but implementing all kinds of new fees.”
But Councilman Jerry Wyatt disagreed, stating that a $20 increase would not prevent an interested business owner from moving to Missouri City and called for the city’s fees to be similar to those in neighboring cities. Smith told the council that although fee comparisons with other cities are hard to pin down because each city’s fee structure is different, he estimated that Missouri City’s fees “are above the midpoint”. But when Mayor Allen Owen pressed for specifics, Smith was unable to give an across the board comparison. In addition, Smith cautioned that even the proposed increase in fees would not be enough to “protect the general fund from the functions and activities of staff and reviewing the permits.”
After Councilmen Floyd Emery and Robin Elackatt sided with Ngyuen in opposing the fees, City Manager, Edward Broussard told the council that what is most attractive to business owners is the speed in which a city can process applications and permits. Mayor Allen Owen agreed, citing his experience as a former banking executive and then chastised the other councilmen as “not knowing what in the hell you’re talking about.”
The council asked Smith and his staff to work on an “apples to apples comparison” of fees between Missouri City, Sugar Land, Stafford and Pearland and voted to postpone the resolution until that information is available.