City approves plan to charge event fees

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WESTBROOK — After years of allowing groups to hold events in the city for free, the City Council reversed course Monday by finalizing a decision to charge non-local groups an application fee as well as fees for the use of electricity and portable restrooms.

The fees would not apply to events put on by the school, city or a charitable organization based in Westbrook.

In order to hold an event in Westbrook, organizers must first fill out an event permit application with the event permit committee. In addition to dates, times, location and a description of the event, applicants must also cite the need for city services and their parking plan, among other items. All out-of-town groups or organizations will now be required to pay $200 to file the application and to pay for electricity and the use of portable restrooms if the event has more than 150 attendees.

Groups will also be billed for any services provided by police, fire/rescue, public services or any other city department during their events.

Councilors Monday decided to amend the ordinance they approved at first reading earlier this month. Initially, the ordinance said the city, or the event committee, “may” cover the fees and expenses for city services for events put on by the schools, the city or Westbrook-based organizations. 

Councilor Brendan Rielly said he was uneasy about allowing the city to choose which events it would exempt from the fees. That could cause a lot of problems and put the event committee, or council, in a position of either waiving the fees for every group or cherry-picking which ones get covered, something that could be divisive.

In an effort to ease Rielly’s concerns and some of his own, Councilor Mike Foley made a motion to require the city to cover the expenses for city services up to $3,000. If the cost for city services is expected to be more than that, it would come before the council for review. Per charter, the council reviews all expenditures $3,000 or more.

Councilor Victor Chau was the only councilor who voted against the event permit fee ordinance. He preferred the language passed at first reading and worried about groups from out of town renting a post office box in Westbrook in order to call themselves a Westbrook-based organization and get the fees and expenses covered by the city.

After Chau made that same arguments at first reading March 4, City Solicitor Natalie Burns told the council that the city clerk’s office, which issues event permits, can ask for additional information if there is a question of where an organization or group is based.

To fund the expense for city services for event’s by Westbrook-based groups, City Administrator Jerre Bryant recommends creating a dedicated account for such use and has budgeted $11,000 into it for the upcoming fiscal year.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

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