Charging extra fees to organizations holding events in Mount Airy — to offset the costs of related services provided by public safety personnel — could be a way to increase funding for agencies such as the Mount Airy Rescue Squad.
That idea emerged during a meeting of the city government Finance Committee Tuesday, held to further discuss $222,650 in municipal funding requests received on April 9 from the rescue squad and three other organizations.
City commissioners Jon Cawley and Steve Yokeley — who make up the committee — recognize that the squad, Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, Surry Arts Council and Mount Airy Public Library all provide vital services to citizens.
However, they are having to devote careful consideration to this year’s installment of outside-agency funding because of a potential revenue shortfall to Mount Airy of at least $400,000 and possibly up to $1.2 million.
This is due to changes in Raleigh which will impact the city budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that begins on July 1. The city manager also is trying to meet a board of commissioners directive to slash property taxes while also providing funds to cover needed capital projects that have been long delayed.
Every agency except the rescue squad is requesting about what the city provided last year. It is seeking a hike from $5,000 to $22,500. One reason for that increase involves the fact that the 30-member, all-volunteer unit now is having to provide traffic control and other services for about 200 events per year, squad Chief Chad Hutchens has said.
This includes a growing number of walks for charitable causes, runs, various and sundry festivals and other gatherings that can require blocking streets and other safety challenges.
In initial discussion Tuesday, Commissioner Yokeley said he would favor upping the squad allocation from $5,000 to $10,000. “I’d like to do more for the rescue squad, but there’s just no way,” he said.
Cawley also suggested juggling the allocations to provide $7,500 for the squad, but later broached the idea of allowing that agency to be compensated for the extra services it’s having to supply for the expanding numbers of activities.
In addition to the rescue squad, those events are putting extra manpower burdens on the municipality’s police, fire and public services departments, officials say.
“The city provides the safety for the event and the rescue squad assists with that,” City Manager Barbara Jones explained during Tuesday’s meeting. “We have substantial overtime costs for the events.”
Officials’ tone Tuesday was that this is something normally to be expected of public-paid personnel. But when existing fee schedules for event permits went into effect years ago, no one anticipated today’s huge volume and the extra expenses resulting.
“And I don’t think this is a cost that should be spread out to all of the property owners around town,” Cawley said.
Under the present arrangement, groups wanting to hold events must obtain a permit from the police department which also requires a fee. These can vary according to the size of a gathering, but generally are “minimal,” based on Tuesday’s discussion, which also indicated that a non-profit agency might pay nothing.
Cawley said adding another charge to cover safety costs would allow the municipal agencies and rescue squad to be compensated for their extra services required. It might not cover all the city’s overtime burden, but at least could offset it, officials said.
This would simply be the cost of doing business, Cawley said, especially when fundraising campaigns are involved.
He mentioned a baseball event he organizes to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s disease research. It requires paying umpires, buying baseballs and meeting other needs, which is deducted from the final sum sent to the national organization of that disease, Cawley said.
“This is the cost of putting on a baseball game,” Cawley said, likening those expenses to the extra charge proposed for organizations staging events in the city. “We still have the (Lou Gehrig’s disease) event, even with the cost of the umpires.”
However, Cawley said he doesn’t want to nitpick people “to death” and discourage a group from sponsoring an activity because of the additional permit charge.
In the absence of a definite decision Tuesday on what the Mount Airy Rescue Squad is to receive from the municipality, Yokeley agreed with Cawley’s idea of trying to arrive at the added fee that would help the squad.
As a result, the city manager soon will be assembling information about overtime and other expenses and try to devise a fair compensation level for all concerned.
“We can probably come close,” Jones said of the relevant figures.
Hutchens, the rescue squad chief, had a mixed reaction later Tuesday when told about the proposed fee plan.
“It would be interesting to see,” he said of how such a measure went over, which would require a lot of information to adequately put into effect.
Yet while any proposal aimed at providing more funding to the rescue squad is appealing, Hutchens wonders how it might impact what the agency receives from other sources such as the Surry County government and the United Fund of Surry.
Their allocations could be reduced over a perception that the squad is being adequately funded through the municipality’s fee schedule, Hutchens indicated.
“That would be my biggest concern.”
The city Finance Committee members seemed supportive Tuesday of the funding requests from the Surry Arts Council, museum and public library. However, the library’s requested increase of $1,000 from the $101,650 allocated for 2012-2013 did raise questions as did the overall budget of the Northwest Regional Library network that operates the Mount Airy facility and 12 other libraries.
But after a hastily arranged conference call Tuesday with John Hedrick, director of that system, assurances were gained that the money funded by Mount Airy is used to support its library rather than being spread across the region.
Yokeley also addressed a concern he had over the proposed increase. “If the entire $1,000 all goes toward purchasing books, I would be more in favor of the budget (increase),” he said.
Hedrick said, by telephone, that this would be the case.
“We do all we can to keep up the book line so the public will see a good stream of new books coming in,” the regional director said.
The museum and arts organization are seeking the same sums as the present budget year, $10,000 and $87,500, respectively.
The Finance Committee will hold another meeting later to discuss the fee proposal, with final recommendations on outside-agency allocations to be made as the next municipal budget takes shape.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.