Be they summer concerts or parades of Halloween goblins and witches, Clayton’s downtown events attract locals and visitors alike into the center of town.
These events also shut down streets, draw on town utilities and use the time of town staff. Because of that, Clayton is mulling a policy that would start charging fees to hold events downtown, with the cost depending on the size and draw of the event.
Last year, town employees spent 3,593 hours planning for and working 25 special events, deputy town manager Nancy Medlin said. That number is equal to nearly two full-time employees.
The biggest drain on staff time was the Christmas Village and tree lighting, which required 1,709 hours to pull off, mostly because of town’s electrical crew hanging lights all around Clayton.
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The four largest events, Fourth of July, the Harvest Festival, the Christmas Village and tree lighting and Christmas parade, are all town sponsored, drawing 45,000 visitors between them.
The new fee schedule would charge for street closures, police details, trash and recycling containers, water and electricity, mailers, park rentals and mass calls.
Proposed fees for out-of-town residents are considerably higher; the sanitation deposit for the largest events is $250 for in-town residents and $500 for those outside of town. Hiring police officers is one of the more costly fees at $35 per hour per officer. Town-sponsored events, like the July 4 fireworks display and the Halloween parade, would be exempt from fees.
Medlin said the proposed fees won’t cover all town costs and aren’t intended to. “This is not meant to make money; it’s not even meant to cover our costs,” she said. “It’s really just to defray some of our costs.”
Town Manager Steve Biggs said the fees, especially for smaller events like road races, would force organizers to evaluate their commitment to an event.
“The cost-recovery part of this isn’t intended to cover our costs,” he said. “The cost-recovery part of this is to weed out commitment to programs. People will sit around one night and decide to do a road race without considering the impacts.”
While town-sponsored events would be exempt, private events would be subject to some new restrictions, such as limiting the number of large events to no more than one in a two-month period. Road races would be limited to one per year in any specific neighborhood and no more than one per month across town.
“There’s a lot of inconvenience to folks who live in neighborhoods, who Saturday, after Saturday, after Saturday see their entrances blocked by a race,” Medlin said.
Clayton’s cobbled its proposed policy together using the best features of similar policies in surrounding towns, Medlin said. It would apply only to outdoor, significant events, ranging from 20,000 visitors to 100. Use of the Clayton Center, library and small gatherings like birthday parties in park wouldn’t be subject to the policy, Medlin said.
Biggs said the 3,500 hours spent on special events each year don’t show up in a special line item. Instead, they are built into the base salary for the employee and the budget for the town.
Biggs encouraged the Town Council to take its time with the policy draft.
“This is a major policy shift,” he said. “We’re not expecting any action tonight.”
Organizers of two of Clayton’s largest events stuck around until the end of the meeting to speak on the policy. Dave Brown, who runs the Clayton Shindig and will host the first Mondo Roots festival this summer with Clayton Visual Arts, cautioned the council against restricting events that bring new people to Clayton.
“As far as the Shindig goes, of those 1,500 people, very few of them are from here; that’s a big thing to take into consideration,” Brown said. “I would like to see maybe some kind of consideration for these festivals. We’re trying to feature this town. These festivals can be held literally anywhere.”
James Lipscomb is heavily involved in the chamber’s Harvest Festival, which is town sponsored. But he asked the council to give special consideration to nonprofits, instead of organizing Clayton’s special events only by size.
“I feel like there should be some exemption you guys should give,” Lipscomb said. “If it’s an event that’s truly giving back to the town of Clayton and its stated causes, there should be some kind of exemption.”
“I don’t know about exemption; I’ll tell you right up front I don’t know about that word; that’s a heavy word,” Mayor Jody McLeod said. “Consideration, absolutely. We want to create some awareness in the public about how much value goes into tax dollars. ... It’s a tremendous amount of money it takes to make [special events] happen.”
The council will take the policy back up during its May work session.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson