Westbrook begins process to charge event-holders

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WESTBROOK — Putting on an event such as a 5K road race or other event in the city has been free, but that could soon be changing.

The committee of the whole reviewed a proposal Monday from the City Clerk’s Office to charge a fee to event organizers who wish to have exclusive use of a city property or whose event uses public property and requires city resources such as police detail or street closures. The idea was met with unanimous support from the five members of the committee in attendance (Councilor Anna Turcotte and Council President Brendan Rielly were absent). Mayor Mike Sanphy said it is likely the event fees will come before the City Council for official review Monday, June 18.

Holding such an event, would require the organization to pay a $500 security deposit, a $200 application fee, a fee of $25 a day if the event needs electricity and a $25 portable toilet fee for events where more than 150 people are expected. Events may also be charged an administration/staff fee, which would be determined based on the actual costs incurred by the city. The security deposit would be returned if the space is left in good condition after the event.

To a question from Committee Chairman Gary Rairdon, City Clerk Angela Holmes said the administrative fee would likely be based on the overtime cost for police and fire.

The event permit fee would apply for both for-profit and non-profit organizations using public property, but would not apply to events taking place on private property. Deputy Clerk Ashley Rand said the police and fire departments have their own fee structure for services they provide for private events.

Rand said the event permit and fee would apply to couples renting Riverbank Park out for their weddings, for example, but only if they are looking for exclusive use of the park during their time there.

“This would be for events where the user is demanding exclusive use of the city property,” Holmes said.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said non-exclusive use of city property needs only mayoral approval.

An event review committee, made up of representatives from public safety, planning and code enforcement, public services, community services and the clerk’s office, was formed a year ago to develop an event permit application and look into the introduction of fees.The fee structure, Holmes said, is based on the cost to the city for providing services and how other community charge for similar events within their borders. 

“The intent is not to discourage events, but it can be a drain on city resources,” Bryant said.

Councilor John O’Hara supported the idea, but would like to strike a provision that stated “there is no alcohol permitted on city property for the event.”

He said more and more events are allowing alcohol. City Solicitor Natalie Burns said the no alcohol provision in the event permit application stems from the city ordinance that bans alcohol consumption in public parks. O’Hara said he would like that revisted “sooner rather than later.”

“What the community is doing is draconian. It is not the norm any more. This is just a blue law put on the books years and years ago,” O’Hara said, adding Portland waives the public consumption of alcohol for events held on the Maine State Pier, for example.

O’Hara said Westbrook’s ordinance prohibits the two craft breweries in the city, Mast Landing Brewing Company and Yes Brewing, from participating in events in public spaces. O’Hara said in many cases alcohol can “enhance” an event experience. A beer garden, he said, would be a nice draw for the musical performances on Friday night at Westbrook Together Days.

Depsite this, he applauded the clerk’s office for bringing the event permit application and fee forward.

“It’s been a longtime coming. It is an easy format,” he said, adding “you have done a good job putting it together.”

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

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