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Event fees to be enforced under proposed city policy

Members of the Roswell City Council General Services Committee discuss Wednesday afternoon a policy that would enforce fees for many events held in the city and would establish what city staff are describing as a streamlined process to obtain approval for events and film productions. Clockwise from left are Natasha Mackey, Tabitha Denny, Art Sandoval and Steve Henderson. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The city of Roswell is considering a new policy that will change processes and require fees for many events, raising some questions about how it will affect charitable or smaller nonprofit events.

The proposed Special Events and Film Policy has been discussed at four meetings of two committees of the Roswell City Council, including at the Wednesday afternoon meeting of the General Services Committee. That group approved the policy to move forward.
City administrators describe the policy as needed to clarify and codify city policies, establish consistency in implementation and allow the city to recoup costs it spends on events requiring labor or equipment. They said it also is meant to improve planning and ease coordination for event organizers and production crews.
“I think (the policy) will streamline (the process) for the organizations,” said Juanita Jennings, director of public affairs for the city. “It will allow them to come to one person, rather than to many different offices, when trying to get the event or film production organized.”
The policy establishes a Special Event Team consisting of representatives of such city departments as police, fire, sanitation, parks and marketing. The team would be headed by the city’s tourism and event manager. Team members will review applications and guide them through the necessary departments, rather than requiring organizers themselves to approach each department. The Special Events Team also will direct applicants to make requests for lodgers tax funds to cover some costs if possible.
Fees for events are, for the most part, those passed in April 2015, Jennings said.
“The issue was that no one was enforcing them,” she said.
Administrative Director Elizabeth Stark-Rankins said that some fees have actually decreased from 2015 and that the only new fees are those associated with film crews, which weren’t a part of the 2015 policy.
The policy as written now requires a $35 application fee and a permit fee ranging from $200 to $1,500 depending on whether the organization is a for-profit or nonprofit and the estimated size of attendance. Fees are also charged for equipment and personnel, including security, which the city has the authority to require if public safety is considered an issue.
City Councilor Natasha Mackey, a member of the General Services Committee, raised several questions about fees. She said she wondered if such fees as $1,000 for the first day of use of a large mobile stage would prove prohibitive for nonprofit groups.
“One of my concerns is unintended consequences,” she said. “I know you have looked at all the different festivals that we have, but, of course, you can’t really guess about potential special events. … I am thinking about groups like the (shelter or Alzheimer’s Association). I haven’t looked at their paperwork, but I don’t see them being able to afford an additional $1,000 fee.”

Her questions were amplified because a previous version of the policy included wording to allow the city manager, at his or her discretion, to waive or reduce fees.
The Finance Committee rejected that provision at its July 6 meeting, according to Stark-Rankins and City Councilors Tabitha Denny and Steve Henderson, who serve on both the General Services and Finance committees.
Mackey suggested adding the wording about waivers back into the policy.
“I think with all the different events that we will have a potential event that would come up (where we would need) the city manager to have that loophole in the policy,” she said.
Mackey said she thought it would be much more difficult to change the policy after adoption to allow exceptions than to include a waiver provision from the start.
But Mackey was told that most likely the Finance Committee, due to hear the policy again Aug. 3, would not approve the policy without removing the waiver provision.
Denny explained that Finance Committee members had two major concerns with a waiver policy. Some were concerned with the onus such a policy would put on the city manager, opening him or her up to charges of favoritism, and some members thought allowances for nonprofit events were better addressed by allowing organizations to request in-kind contributions from the city in their application. The city often does not charge organizers of the annual Veterans Parade for all city equipment and services, for example.
After the meeting, Jennings said that the in-kind requests going through the Special Events Team will ensure consistency because city staff will be held accountable for decisions and would have to prove that all groups and events were treated fairly.
Mackey said she would wait until the matter appears before the full City Council before deciding whether to ask for re-introduction of the waiver provision.
Jennings expressed her understanding that groups not accustomed to paying fees might find the policies or enforcement of fees upsetting, but she also said that the city has been bearing much of the labor and equipment costs in the past, such as paying for people to set up barricades at night.
“The question is, who pays for it? Taxpayers are paying for it because they pay for city staff,” she said. “Should we expect the city to pay for everything at all events? That’s the question we have to answer.”
If the Finance Committee approves the policy on Aug. 3, the City Council will consider the matter at its Aug. 10 meeting.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.