By REID TUCKER
Just months after approving across-the-board fees for the rental of city buildings, the DeFuniak Springs City Council delivered a trio of split-decision votes granting fee waivers for three different non-profit events.
The back-to-back-to-back decisions at the Council’s Feb. 25 meeting ultimately cost the city a combined $1,010 in possible revenues, as the new rules apply to both non-profits and governmental entities alike. Councilman Mac Work let it be known that, while no one on the board doubted the value of the services being provided by these events, a line had to be drawn somewhere.
“We’re never going to get anywhere on these rental fees at all if we keep backing up every time somebody asks for something,” Work said. “We’ve got to take a stand here.”
Nevertheless, the Council handed consecutive 3-2 votes in favor of approving the waiver requests, with Councilmen Ron Kelley and Work voicing the opposing opinion.
First up, Erica Pierce, a representative of Destiny Worship Center, requested to use the Community Center on June 20-22 and on Aug. 10 (which carries a fee of $555 total) for her church’s annual “Backpack 2 School” program. Destiny Worship Center distributed 1,200 backpacks stuffed with school supplies, plus shoes and a free haircut, to needy schoolchildren in Walton County last year. Pierce also requested a fee waiver (of $350) for a Dec. 21 rental of the Community Center to host a Christmas party for about 150 local foster children, each of which customarily receives four gifts.
Next, Covenant Hospice’s Carolyn Williams requested that the Council waive the rental fee of $110 for the organization’s use of the lakeyard amphitheatre and its sound system as part of Covenant Hospice’s annual Easter egg hunt on March 30. The egg hunt also includes a remembrance ceremony for those in the community, especially children, who lost a loved one in the last year. Williams said about 100 kids participated in last year’s event, which included sack lunches, door prizes and games for those in attendance.
City Manager Sara Bowers, who headed up the effort to come up with the new universal rental fee plan, asked the Council members if it was their wish for city staff to reevaluate the fee scheme from scratch. However, it was the belief of Councilmen Wayne Graham, who made the motion to approve the requests, and Kermit Wright that the board should always have the final say as to whether or not to approve a waiver. The two men, along with Councilman Henry Ennis, who also cast an aye vote, said they preferred to look at each request on a case-by-case basis.
“I was looking…at what we’re getting for our citizens for this gesture,” Wright said. “Whenever we weigh what the citizens are getting versus what this is costing us, I think it’s a profitable move on our part to make the decision we made tonight. I believe in weighing each [decision] as it comes before us. If I deem that our citizens are not going to benefit far more that their investment then I will not vote for it.”
Beyond those items on the request agenda, the Council unanimously approved two items of policy, the first being the second reading and approval of the ordinance to take the office of mayor’s authority to cast tie-breaking votes to voter referendum on April 9. The second item was the first reading of the proposed ordinance amends chapter 17 of the municipal code as it relates to temporary land use permits, while establishing a public hearing date of March 11. This ordinance, which was discussed at more length at meetings over the past several months, places limitations on the duration of temporary sales and also levies daily fees of $500 or $2,500 per occurrence, whichever is more, for vendors selling tangible products, namely automobiles, sold for more than $1,000.