Although the city’s latest budget has been approved, one bit of unfinished business remains: the strong possibility that organizations soon could be charged more to hold festivals and other events in Mount Airy.
City officials said during a workshop this week that it was not practical to incorporate a new fee schedule for special events into the 2013-2014 budget that goes into effect on July 1.
But they plan to meet again within the next two months to explore having organizations sponsoring festivals and other gatherings to pay more to help offset the costs these pose to city government.
That includes a taking a closer look at the Autumn Leaves Festival, the largest of those events which has been held every October in Mount Airy since the late 1960s. But as the street festival has grown, so have the accompanying expenses for sanitation, police and other services, it was stressed during this week’s discussion.
“We are spending a ton of money taking care of everybody,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said of the situation in general, which includes a growing number of special events including other street festivals, walks, runs and more.
“We need to discuss somehow getting some of these cleanup funds back.”
An analysis released earlier this spring showed that in 2012 alone, the special events held in Mount Airy cost the city government $42,237. The lion’s share of that was for the Autumn Leaves Festival, with a price tag of $23,188 for extra manpower and equipment for such needs as security, traffic control and trash collections.
In return, the city got only $200 from the sponsoring Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, the price of the special-events permit issued to hold the festival. In all, $2,575 in permit fees were received for all events last year, which numbered about 35.
Commissioner Brinkley drew attention to the fact that many people don’t take part in any of those activities. However, taxpayers at large must pick up the tab for them, officials noted.
“I just don’t think it is right to keep asking everybody to pay for these specialized groups,” Cawley said.
Members of the board of commissioners agreed at this week’s meeting that the fee schedule should be revamped from its present charge of $50 to a group wanting to hold a street festival. An additional $25 is paid if an event banner is requested.
Commissioner Jon Cawley mentioned that many of the activities are held to raise money for some worthy cause, such as research for various diseases. He suggested that as part of increasing its event fees, the city employ an “honor system” in which sponsoring organizations pay 5 percent of the money generated to the city to help with its expenses.
“I think there ought to be a cost of doing business associated with that,” he said of designating a small percentage from the thousands of dollars collected in such cases. “That seems to me to be fair.”
Cawley said that charge would not be required for events such as a prayer walk, which has no fund-raising objective. “Five percent of zero is zero.” Meanwhile, he added that the Autumn Leaves Festival reaps “significant money,” although city officials as well as the public have no idea how much.
Even if the chamber did turn over 5 percent of its proceeds, Cawley said that probably would not come close to offsetting the expenses to the city — but could soften the brunt.
“We don’t want to break anybody,” he said of groups staging events, or diminish the festivals themselves.
City officials concurred that the three-day Autumn Leaves Festival filled with crafts, music and food is a fine gathering that is considered one of the best in North Carolina.
Said Commissioner Dean Brown, “We need to be really careful that we don’t hurt these events.”
In agreeing that the issue requires in-depth study beyond what could be accomplished in a tight time frame, the commissioners plan to meet again during the summer and examine all aspects of the situation. That will include input from event organizers, according to this week’s discussion.
City board members said any new fees adopted likely would not go into effect until 2014 since events such as the Autumn Leaves Festival are well into the planning stages for this year.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.