Reaction to news that proposed user fees could lead to event organizers in Newton — most notably those who organize the annual Downtown Newton Car Show — to stop hosting events was swift, and predictable, in the social media world.
There was outrage. That outrage has been heard in city hall.
“There has been a bit of a social media storm regarding next week’s public informational meeting on a draft special events policy,” wrote city manager Bob Myers in a letter sent out to community stakeholders Friday afternoon.
The city has drafted a policy and sent it, with a letter explaining the policy, to “community partners” who plan and create events. That letter invited those who received it to a meeting with city staff next week at 5:30 p.m. July 20 in the commission chambers at Newton City Hall, 201 E. Sixth.
According Myers, the purpose of the meeting next week is to give those affected by those fees “an opportunity to learn about what is on the table.” Staff will be asking what those fees might mean for them in terms of additional costs for organizers.
Friday Myers took time to craft a letter explaining where the proposal came from, and the context involved. He sent that via email to more than 20 different addresses, including The Newton Kansan.
“I trust no one seriously thinks this is some attempt by the City to run off any popular City events. No one is trying to discourage the growth and development of events which our citizens enjoy and which bring people to our community,” Myers said.
However, there is a list of fees in draft form that could cost some larger events, like the car show, more than $1,000. Much of that is a $100 per block fee for the closure of a major street.
The proposed fee structure also contains a $20 per block fee for the closure of residential streets, a per-foot fee for the use of crowd fencing, water fees, electrical fees, $5 for each street barricade used, $2 for each traffic cone used, $50 per day for message boards, a per foot fee for the use of snow fencing and $5 per day per picnic table.
Also on the list is $150 per hour for site cleanup and $75 per hour for street cleaning. Security would cost $40 an hour for a police officer and $20 per hour for a reserve officer. Fire and EMS standby is listed at $100 per hour.
The short answer for where this came from is the city has been in budget cutting mode while facing new state regulations on budgeting. The legislature passed a “tax lid,” which caps mill levy increases for local governments. The city is, in turn, looking at user fees.
“One of the impacts of the restrictions on local taxes is that it is forcing cities to rely more and more on user fees, particularly as to services which we are not required by law to provide.” Myers wrote. “Our City Commission, like city governing bodies all across the State, has asked that staff review all of our services and what (if anything) we have been charging to see if user fees are in line with our actual costs in providing those services.”
Last year the city began charging for bulky item pickup, a service they had provided free of charge in the past.
“All services cost money to provide. The question is who should bear the cost. To the extent the users of the service don’t pay directly for it, then by default all citizens are subsidizing those costs,” Myers wrote.
In the case of the user fees for events, staff was asked to develop a list of charges which would the actual costs of services. That was done. No final decisions have been made.
“This is just a draft. It will then be up to the City Commission to decide whether and to what extent to adopt any or all of those kinds of charges – and whether and to what extent some activities might be partially or fully exempt from any such fees,” Myers wrote. “My advice to the Commission will be that, to the extent they want to give some kind of a break for certain kinds of events, that we would then need to articulate the criteria by which those distinctions would be made. And, most certainly, there can be some strong justifications as to why for some kinds of events that may be okay.”