Interest fee

Nonprofits could pay more to use city parks under new pricing policy

Under a new policy passed late Monday, the Salem Parks Department will allow a standard 20% fee waiver for nonprofits using city parks, rather than asking the city council to approve waivers on a case-by-case basis.

A family sits in Northgate Park during a neighborhood event in 2021 (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem nonprofits can now receive up to a 20% reduction in city facility fees for events held in Salem parks after city councilors changed a previous policy that gave the council discretion to approve larger waivers.

The change, approved late Monday, means city councilors won’t be responsible for voting on individual event fee waivers, instead leaving those decisions to city employees based on standard policy. Advisors previously had the discretion to waive all or most fees for an event.

“You had to come to council and we had to make a decision and really only those who had access to a councilor could really do that and we had no criteria,” council chairman Chris Hoy told Salem Reporter, speaking about previous policy.

The new policy aims to make decisions fairer between organizations while allowing the city to recoup the costs of park maintenance and services associated with events.

Nonprofits are the main organizers of events in city parks, according to a February report from the city attorney presented to council. In 2019, the last “normal” year of operations before the pandemic, the city processed permits for about 500 events, 350 of which were hosted by 130 different nonprofits, according to the report.

Fee reductions apply to Facility Use Fees – the amount the city charges to reserve a specific stage, picnic shelter or other location within a city park, which are defined in the fee schedule principal of city fees. These fees vary widely by park and facility, ranging from $32 per hour for many shelters and picnic sites, to $1,232 per day for commercial use of the Riverfront Park Amphitheater.

Under the new policy, the standard 20% fee reduction would also apply to events hosted by neighborhood organizations after Hoy made an amendment that councilors unanimously approved. Public meetings held in parks and informal gatherings such as picnics where no facilities are reserved are not subject to fees.

Councilor Jackie Leung abstained from voting on the policy, citing a conflict of interest, and councilors Vanessa Nordyke and Virginia Stapleton were absent.

Fee waivers do not apply to other permits such as those for the sale of alcohol or food, or sound amplification for concerts.

But the changes also mean some nonprofits will pay more to hold events that previously didn’t have the full cost of using city facilities.

This sparked concern among members of the West Salem Lions Club, which held a series of free concerts for decades at West Salem Park and raised funds to build a permanent roof over the stage in the 1990s. concerts this year continues until July.

“To further encourage this type of fantastic volunteer effort in the future, it is worth acknowledging and thanking them with a small gesture of waiving the park user fee so that these groups can provide wonderful events/activities at the community,” club leaders Celia and Craig said. Urbani said in their written testimony.

Craig Urbani, who chairs the concert series, said the city of Salem charged the club $965 for a four-concert series this year, compared to $311.50 for a six-concert series in 2019, the last time. that concerts had taken place. The increase was partly due to the city holding the 2022 series into four separate events and had previously considered the series to be one event, Urbani said.

The club had requested a fee waiver which was due to be considered by the board on Monday, but instead the councilors proposed the changes to the fee waiver policy.

Urbani and other club members submitted public testimony asking the board to reconsider the policy, noting that any club funds spent on city fees would be taken from the club’s budget, the majority of which is used to provide glasses and hearing aids for low-income people.

They also noted the city’s agreement with the Rotary Club of Salem allowing the club to use Riverfront Park for free five days a year as part of the donation agreement for the Gerry Frank | Salem Rotary Amphitheatre, which the club built and donated to the city.

To address the concern, Hoy introduced a motion asking city employees to work with the Lions Club to draft a similar agreement allowing the organization to use the park at a lower cost in recognition of their contributions to capital improvements. . Councilors also approved this motion unanimously.

Hoy said the council’s intent is that other nonprofits that have made improvements to local parks may also seek special agreements with the city.

“If they get their hands dirty, it makes sense that they could use the site for an event,” he said. “It takes the cost off the city, so it’s a win-win.”

After the board meeting, Craig Urbani told the Salem Reporter he wanted the club to reach an agreement with the city before commenting further on the fee changes.

The club’s next concert is scheduled for Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at West Salem Park on Northwest Rosemont Avenue. More information and a schedule are available on the club’s Facebook page.

Contact journalist Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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