Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Common Ground and a Win/Win for Special Events

Recently the Council gave direction to staff regarding the proposed update to our Master Fee Schedule. As such, I wanted to share my thoughts on why this was an important action for the City to take. There were three main principals at play:

Ensure full recovery of costs – Historically the City did not recover the full cost of providing services or renting facilities. The rates for each did not include a fully burdened rate for staff charges, including administrative staff and police, and they hadn’t been updated beyond a perfunctory CPI increase in many many years. By focusing on a full recovery method, the City ensures it is recovering the actual cost it incurs for these services and facilities.

Fairness to the Taxpayers – Money is fungible. As such, fee waivers or discounts represent taxpayer funded subsidies and should be made judiciously. We offer discounts in a variety of ways throughout the fee schedule - typically for those that reside in Clayton vs. those who do not, or to promote certain activity. Endeavor Hall offers a steep discount for residents and non-profits as the intent of Endeavor is to be a community meeting place of residents, and to support the Arts - the uses of which do not typically generate net income.

Generate revenue – The City’s tax base is relatively small, and somewhat inflexible. There are few opportunities for the City to generate additional revenue. As I stated during my campaign and multiple times afterwards, a tax increase should always be a last resort, and only after all other options are explored. It is appropriate that City’s charge a fee for use of City property. Many cities do this via rental charges or Special Event fees, and Clayton is no exception. The updated fee schedule recognizes that large events that generate significant revenue or support for event sponsors have the ability to pay for use of the City as a venue.

There has been a high level of interest in the updated fee schedule. This update that applies broadly to everyone needed to be in place prior to any discussion with the CBCA. The Council is setting policy for the City as a whole, not just for one organization. A baseline must be established that ensures the City is adequately compensated for staff time and use of its facilities. Now that we have given staff direction on how to move forward, with the actual update to the Master Fee Schedule targeted to be heard at a Public Hearing on August 15, it is appropriate that we renew discussion with the CBCA on ways we can continue to work together.

Under the prior Master Use Agreement (MUA) between the City and the CBCA that waived virtually all permitting fees and did not reimburse the City for actual costs incurred by staff, the interests of the two parties were not always aligned. The CBCA had an interest in successful events to further their mission. The City had an interest in generating greater revenue to support the financial health of the City. In this rubric, the City did not receive the full benefit from events as we were not recovering our full costs. The time spent by City staff (maintenance and police) was not fully invoiced, and staff were overall more burdened as there was a net increase in workload. Combine that with the waiver of fees for renting things like the streets and the Grove park, near $5K-$7K per event, and even the small amount of sales tax generated did not nearly make up for the burden to the City.

Recently I had a conversation with the President of the CBCA. I conveyed that because our interests were not always aligned, it could appear that activities between the two organizations were more adversarial than they actually were, or intended to be. In an effort to find what could be a win/win, I suggested that there may be a way that we could work together in partnership – come to terms so that when the CBCA is successful, so is the City. Depending on the details, I would be open to the idea of reduced or waived fees in exchange for a revenue sharing arrangement. This would be mutually beneficial for all parties, including the taxpayers of our City. The more financially successful the events are, the better it is for everyone. It would then be in the City’s interest to assist as much as possible, and the CBCA could have a predictable cost structure like any other cost of supplies. For the larger events the outcome could be about the same as what is in the current proposed update to the Master Fee Schedule, but for smaller events the fees would no longer be an impediment to their overall viability.

I hope that we could come to terms on an arrangement like this and I look forward to working with the CBCA on ways that we could continue working together.