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At the most recent Council meeting, held Monday, April 17, Council reviewed a proposal concerning event fees that would cover the costs of utility and public safety services that the Village provides for special events such as Street Fair, Pride, Juneteenth, Fourth of July and other annual occasions. (2022 photo by Ben Guenther)

Village Council | Proposed event fees raise concerns

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At Village Council’s most recent meeting, held Monday, April 17, several business owners and village residents took Village Manager Josué Salmerón and Council members to task for a proposal that would require special event organizers to pay increased fees to host their events in Yellow Springs.

According to a memo Salmerón sent to Council members before the meeting, the proposed event fees would cover the costs of utility and public safety services that the Village provides for special events such as Street Fair, Pride, Juneteenth, Fourth of July and other annual occasions.

The fee schedule would require event organizers to pay the Village based on anticipated attendance. Specifically, 50–1,000 attendees for an event would cost organizers $100. Fees increase as attendance goes up, and cap at $10,000 for 50,000 or more attendees.

The memo outlined the total number of costs associated with a hypothetical special event that attracted 10,000 attendees and would require Village services and utilities. For such an event, organizers would owe the Village $6,304 — thousands of dollars higher than what event organizers typically pay.

“But that amount is a little less than half of what the Village would pay,” Salmerón explained at the outset of the discussion at the Council meeting. “These fees are not designed to account for 100 percent of the costs. This is a way to deal with concerns over how much it costs [the Village] to sponsor and support events.”

For instance, last October’s Street Fair, which drew approximately 20,000 visitors to Yellow Springs, cost the Village nearly $40,000 in staff time, utilities and resources, Salmerón said.

“So, ultimately, we’re making decisions about taxpayer dollars,” Council President Brian Housh added. “But we do understand that events make a community healthy and thriving.”

According to the memo, this fee structure was designed after a model established in Seattle, which “emphasizes the importance of collaboration and community between public safety agencies and event organizers to ensure that events are safe and successful for all involved.”

Salmerón’s memo also noted that the proposed fees are an attempt to resolve several ongoing challenges the Village faces, such as “increased event volume, lack of cost recovery and stretched staffing capacity.”

“In the past, the Village [and by extension, local taxpayers] has absorbed these costs, but given our current budget pressures, it is essential that Council understands the cost implications and authorizes the proposed fee structure,” the memo read.

Those who spoke against the proposal — exclusively business owners and event organizers — argued that the additional costs to put on special events might be too expensive, and as a result, prevent the events from taking place at all.

“I think this is ridiculous,” Don Beard, who co-owns Peach’s Grill, the Import House and Ye Olde Trail Tavern, said.

“Pride, parades, Juneteenth, the zombie walk — none of them are going to be able to afford these fees,” Beard said. “And if that’s the case, then essentially, these events will go away. Where does that leave me when you want to take away the stuff that literally drives people here?”

Heather Stewart-Rigsbee, an organizer for the annual Pride event — which is set this year for Saturday, June 24, taking place throughout the village — agreed with Beard. She and several other Pride organizers told Council they believed the new fee structure to be hastily proposed and the result of a breakdown in communication.

“You’ve gotten us in a tizzy to figure out how, in just two months, we’re going to be able to come up with $6,300. We normally pay $580,” Stewart-Rigsbee said. “This discussion should have happened a long time ago.”

She also expressed dismay over the Village’s methodology in establishing the proposal.

“Why Seattle?” Stewart-Rigsbee asked. “Why base your numbers on a place with a population of 750,000 people, when Yellow Springs has less than 5,000? You should be following suit with places around us with similar demographics.”

She and another Pride organizer, Amy Wamsley, said they felt the Pride committee shouldn’t have been instructed to pay the additional event fees before Council had the opportunity to pass the fee schedule into law.

“It’s just not fair for us,” Wamsley said. “You can’t throw this at us less than 75 days before Pride. It’s unacceptable.”

Observing the frustrations of event organizers and, at the same time, the Village’s need to generate more revenue to pare down the projected $3 million deficit for 2023, Chamber of Commerce President Mark Heise said he sees both sides.

“I understand the pressure being put on Council and the budgetary constraints you face right now,” Heise said. “But in all fairness, it takes at least a year of planning to really make this work without it being a huge hit to any organizational budget, let alone an event budget.”

Heise said he and the team working to put on the upcoming June Street Fair intend to “pay their fair portion” because the Chamber can afford to. “The other festivals,” he said, “cannot.”

Council members Gavin DeVore Leonard and Carmen Brown said that, like many of the business owners and event organizers who spoke at the meeting, they felt blindsided by the proposed fee schedule.

“This is a bummer,” DeVore Leonard said. “Our communication and collaboration with folks have to get better.”

Echoing the sentiment and referring to the alleged last-minute hit to the Pride planning, Brown added: “We can’t just keep changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

Council member Marianne MacQueen also said she had received no communications regarding the proposal prior to the discussion and knew nothing about what had been communicated to other groups, but noted that the Village must “understand what its expenses are for events.”

“And that was the intent,” Housh said. “I apologize for any miscommunication if that indeed did happen. We’re going to keep working on this.”

Ultimately, at the end of the meeting, no decision was made regarding the proposed event fee schedule. However, Housh made a motion for the Village to be a presenting sponsor for YS Pride, despite the monetary amount of the sponsorship being uncertain. Council unanimously approved the motion.

Village Clerk Judy Kintner also indicated that a more robust conversation concerning the specifics of what the Village will donate to YS Pride will likely occur at Council’s next meeting on Monday, May 1.

Additional coverage of the Monday, April 17, Village Council meeting will appear in the upcoming issue of the YS News.

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