By DOTTY NIST
To aid with the operation of buildings and other property owned by Walton County, a policy is now in place for the use of county facilities by organizations.
The policy was approved by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) at its Dec. 19 regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.
The creation of the policy was prompted by a request two months earlier. In October 2013, DeFuniak Springs resident J.B. Hillard asked the BCC for a review of the interlocal agreement between the county, the city of DeFuniak Springs, and the nonprofit Tri-County Community Council providing for the operation of the Life Enrichment Senior Center. The center is located at the county-owned College Avenue Complex in DeFuniak Springs.
The interlocal agreement prohibits the rental of the Senior Center for use by any group other than the parties to the agreement— although it was discussed that one or more community groups had been allowed to meet in the building at no charge in the past.
Hillard was of the opinion that allowing rental fees to be collected would help defray expenses associated with building operation. Mark Davis, county attorney, subsequently agreed to research a policy for use of county buildings, including fees for use of buildings by outside groups. It was discussed that it would be possible to modify the interlocal agreement for the Senior Center after the establishment of such a policy.
The policy approved by the BCC on Dec. 19 states that Walton County Administration may approve the use of county property, facilities and related equipment by groups with the condition that this use “shall not interfere with the county’s use of the property.” County administration is to be responsible for informing groups interested in using facilities of rules and required application forms and for collecting rental payments when applicable.
Groups eligible to use a county facility free of charge (except as required for supervision or clean-up) are: county employees making use of a facility for county educational purposes; national youth groups such as properly-supervised scout groups under sponsorship of a county organization; civil defense personnel; the Walton County Supervisor of Elections for voting precincts; public community colleges and universities for short-term, non-regular use; and any governmental or community agency specifically approved by the BCC as being “in the public interest.”
According to the policy, county administration may also approve the use of a county facility by civic, religious, or other organizations for a fee in connection with temporary, short-term, or non-regular activities by these groups.
Among related conditions are that BCC approval is required “for repetitious use for a period of more than three (3) months,” by a group, and that “(s)ufficient supervision and adequate custodial service of the facility shall be determined by the County Administrator.”
Fees for use of facilities and equipment are required to be paid in advance. Groups are also required to reimburse the county for “custodial, supervisory, and other required services or for damages” within 10 days.
Each group using a county facility is required to agree to hold the county harmless from any liability associated with the group’s use of the facility, provide general liability insurance coverage in the amount of at least $1 million, naming the BCC as an additional insured, and execute a form of indemnity agreement.
The policy prohibits use of county facilities or equipment for gambling or other illegal activity, commercial or personal gain, programs in violation of state statutes, events involving the serving of alcohol, or fund raising and rallies by political groups. Nonprofit political forums including all parties with the intent of informing or educating the community are allowed.
Among other provisions set by the policy are that restrooms are to be made available to all groups using county facilities. Also, event sponsors or vendors using facilities are to notify the local public health unit not less than three days in advance of any event involving the preparation or sale of food or beverages.
If the county administrator receives a request from a group “he/she feels may be controversial,” the group may be required to present their request before the BCC for consideration.
In the event that any group feels it has been improperly denied use of a county facility or improperly required to pay a charge or fee, this may be resolved by the group filing a written appeal to the BCC.
The policy states that rental fees for county facilities will be paid based on a fee schedule approved by the BCC. No fee schedule was approved in connection with the policy at the Dec. 19 meeting. Davis said he was working with Walton County Public Works on a proposed fee schedule and that he would bring that before the BCC for approval at a future date. Upon approval, the fee schedule is to be attached to the policy document.
By DOTTY NIST