Will the free ride soon be over for event organizers in downtown Clayton?
The Town Council on Monday once again debated charging fees to hold certain kinds of events in town and once again couldn’t make a decision.
Back in April, with Clayton adding events and existing events growing in attendance, the town’s staff proposed a special-events policy aimed at recouping some expenses, but more pointedly forcing organizers to put more skin in the game.
Currently, all the town asks of event organizers is a $250 refundable deposit, and that’s only if they’re using Town Square. Otherwise, organizers pay nothing, no matter the size of the festival, parade or road race, whether or not streets are closed off, town utilities are drawn on or garbage picked up. Town staff has proposed a number of fees for services used during special events, varying by the size of the event and doubling for out-of-town organizers.
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“A lot of special events consume a lot of town resources; the bigger the event, the higher the amount of resources consumed,” planning director David DeYoung said. “We wanted to bring greater consistency to the special-events process and create some limited cost-recovery system for the town. We’re not going to recoup all of our expenses or even 50 percent of what it costs the town in staff and manpower to set up these events.”
The proposed policy hasn’t changed much since the town council first saw it in April, and council members remain conflicted over introducing fees for some of the biggest draws to Clayton. Town-sponsored or co-sponsored events like the Christmas Village and the Harvest Festival would be exempt from fees, while growing festivals like Mondo Roots Cultural Arts Festival and the Shindig would likely pay the highest fees of any event. The proposed policy has four categories of events – from road races that tie up streets for a few hours to festivals that draw crowds of more than 5,000 people and require the town to shut down streets.
The categories would only come into play with the sanitation deposit, which would be $250 or $500 for the biggest events or $50 or $100 for the smallest ones. For both large and small events, out-of-town organizers would pay the higher of the two dollar amounts.
Here are other proposed fees, with out-of-town organizers again paying the higher of the two dollar amounts: application, $100 or $200; renting Horne Square or Town Square, $25 or $50 per day; closing a street, $50 or $100 per day; police officers, $35 an hour per officer, plus $100 for out-of towners; utilities, $10 or $20 per utility, which could be metered for multi-day events; and garbage and recycling containers, $13 a day per container, with non-Clayton organizers paying an extra $50.
“It sounded good when I looked at it on paper, I like the process, but I don’t know,” Councilman Butch Lawter said. “If we’re not going to recoup our fees, why bother? I’d hate to tell the Alzheimer’s people it’s going to cost them $500. They put on a good event, one that brings people downtown.”
DeYoung argued the current situation doesn’t ask organizers to consider the toll that events, both small and large, take on town resources and residents. He said an event held at Horne Square would draw parking away from downtown businesses, and a free event in Town Square could make things inconvenient for people attending a wedding at the Clayton Center. (The town charges rental fees for Clayton Center spaces.)
“We get a lot of applications for one-offs, people who know the Town of Clayton has a space available and know it’s free,” DeYoung said. “If they want to use that space, it puts a burden on the town. It costs them nothing to put a burden on the town.”
DeYoung and interim town manager Nancy Medlin said the smallest events, mostly road races, are actually very challenging for the town. The proposed special-events policy would limit road races to two per neighborhood each year and no more than one per month.
“We’ve had complaints from certain neighborhoods about road races held back to back, essentially every Saturday in May,” Medlin said. “They’ll say, ‘I can’t get out of my doggone driveway because there’s a race every Saturday.’ ”
Councilman Michael Grannis said he supported charging out-of-town organizers higher fees but was uncomfortable with a 100-percent markup, adding later he did not want to try to turn a profit. Medlin said even the out-of-town rates fail to cover the costs typically borne by the town.
“The goal was never to turn a profit,” Medlin said. “The goal was to create an incentive for folks to come to us with quality events and a genuine interest in bringing people to Clayton. Not just frivolous events.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson