Fees that went into effect in January of this year in Rochester that are intended to recoup costs the city incurs when non-profit groups host special events will be lowered for those groups and phased in over the next two years, following a request at the Monday, April 23, city council meeting.
City council in March of 2017 approved increasing the percentage non-profits must reimburse the city for services it provides during special events from 10 percent of the cost the city incurs over $1,000 to 75 percent of the cost over $100. The measure was intended to recover a portion of the tens of thousands of dollars in city-provided services it provides to non-profits using city property for city events each year.
Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm said in late 2016 that the city provided more than $175,000 in services to non-profits in 2013 through 2015. While city council members last year agreed to increase fees to non-profit organizations, the council debated for months prior as to the fee amount and whether the new fees would apply to all non-profits. Council last year also considered establishing five signature events, during which no other special events in the city would be permitted. Those events included the city's Christmas parade, the Big Bright Light Show, Heritage Days, Art and Apples, and Fire & Ice. However, council opted to forego the signature event designation and treat all special events equally, including the application of the fee schedule.
Some non-profits, at the time, said the increases would create a hardship on them and threaten to end some key events that benefit the city, such as the Paint Creek Center for the Arts' Art and Apples festival, and the annual Christmas parade, which is now overseen by the Greater Rochester Regional Chamber's Foundation.
While the new fees were approved in March of 2017, the increases didn't go into effect until January 1, 2018, in order to give non-profits time to seek sponsorships or other means of addressing the new fees.
Despite working to address the increases, representatives from the Greater Rochester Regional Chamber's Foundation and the Paint Creek Center for the Arts on Monday, April 23, told city council members the fees could jeopardize the events. The representatives requested the city reduce the fees from 75 percent to 50 percent, and phase the full force of the fees in over the next two years.
City council members obliged the requests, altering the fee schedule to require non-profits to provide 25 percent of costs over $100 incurred by the city in 2018 and 50 percent of all costs over $100 in 2019.
Councilwoman Ann Peterson and councilman Stuart Bikson initially opposed the fee increases in 2017. Peterson on April23 said she reviewed previous discussions on the issue and said it appeared there was a lack of a real conclusion on the matter. She suggested lowering the fees to as much as 15 to 20 percent to see how they would impact events in the city.
Mayor Pro Tem Kim Russell said she felt the suggestions by the non-profit organizations were a good compromise.
Councilman Ben Giovanelli said he supported the new changes, but said the city should have a policy requiring non-profits to provide their financial information to the city when requesting special events that will lead to added costs to the city.
"Nobody wants to kill Santa," he said, referring to the desire to support the Christmas parade and other events. "Usually when organizations come before council asking for money, they bring financials... I'm in favor of this because we have to do something and it gives them more time to kick the can down the road."
Giovanelli also said the fees must apply to all non-profits and not provide relief to just some organizations.
"Right now, there are about 100 non-profit events each year," he said. "It's like trying to pick which kid I love more. It's super unfair."