By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council made strides toward a policy of more strictly collecting rental fees on city buildings, while also going up on those rates each year.
The Council voted 5-0 on Monday, Oct. 8, to authorize city staff to draw up a proposed ordinance enabling changes to be made to all rates other than water and sewer rates by resolution instead of having to advertise and adopt new ordinances each time.
City Manager Sara Bowers presented the Council with figures showing that the city has, for at least the last three fiscal years, come short of paying for annual operating costs on the city’s biggest two rental venues, the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood and the DFS Community Center. Bowers’ calculations take into account actual utilities costs and the cost of repairs, maintenance and insurance on each building, as well as overtime pay for the employee that opens and closes rented buildings after hours. She also consulted the Consumer Price Index (CPI)when the city’s rental rates were last changed.
The report showed that average annual operational costs to the city totaled $33,884 for the Chautauqua Building alone, with only $18,841 being collected in rentals in Fiscal Year 2012, while $20,547 and $15,350 were collected in the previous two fiscal years, respectively. Bowers recommended that the Council increase the rates for full-day rentals annually by resolution according to the CPI, a nationwide measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for goods and services.
While such a move could put more pressure on non-profit organizations, the Council agreed that the time had come for everyone to pay their way. Councilman Kermit Wright likened the situation to letting someone borrow a pickup truck free of charge and having the vehicle returned without a full tank of gas, then expecting someone who didn’t use it to pay the fuel bill.
“Every time we waive these fees we’re passing that cost to the taxpayers that aren’t going to be at that party,” Wright said. “I think, personally, that if we’re going to waive anything let’s waive any profit the city would make and make [non-profit organizations] pay what it actually costs for [the city] to put on the show.”
After the issue was put to the vote and unanimously approved, Councilman Mac Work suggested that staff create two prospective rate proposals – one establishing a rate for normal renters and another showing the city’s cost to rent the room in the stead of non-profits – so as to have a comparison between the two. Both proposals are likely to include an additional $50 charge levied to all Chautauqua Hall renters to help pay for an elevator at the building. When this secondary item was put the vote it was approved 4-1, with Councilman Henry Ennis opposing.
Having taken care of that major agenda item, Bowers spent her city manager’s report commending the effort of two members of the DeFuniak Springs Fire Department. Lt. Chad Nelson and firefighter Randy Hatcher, with support from Walton County Fire Rescue, saved the lives of four people trapped in their burning home on Sept. 14. Nelson and Hatcher carried three of them, all young children, to safety while another their mother was helped out of a broken window. Nelson then almost singlehandedly fought the blaze until support arrived.
Firefighter Allen Sheffield was kept in reserve at the fire station while Nelson and Hatcher were battling the fire. The men are to be recognized by Congressman Jeff Miller, who will send a representative of his office to present the DeFuniak firefighters with letters of commendation on Monday, Oct. 15.
Other City Council news included several items up for approval, including an interlocal agreement with Walton County for garbage collection, a contract renewal with Crook Creek Farms, Inc. for removal of bio-solids from the sewer system, and renewal of the funding agreement with the Walton County Economic Development Alliance. All the motions passed, but the WCEDA funding agreement did so just barely with three votes for and two against. The Council asked that the WCEDA, which provides statistical and demographic information to companies looking to set up shop in the county and courts potential new businesses, to provide more frequent status updates on pending projects.
The Council also approved for first reading and advertisement an ordinance outlining definitions regarding aggressive panhandling within the city limits. Unanimous approval was also given to the DeFuniak Springs Woman’s Club to block all traffic on Circle Drive on Halloween night. Finally, the Council voted to reschedule its Monday, Nov. 12 meeting to the following day as the prior date conflicts with the city’s observance of Veterans Day, which this year falls on a Sunday.