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Spokane council postpones action on changes to fees for city events

YouTube screenshot of Spokane City Council meeting
Catherine Howell from the club that sponsors Spokane's Junior Lilac Parade speaks against proposed new event fees at Monday's council meeting.

A proposal to charge event organizers with an administrative fee and another flat-rate fee ran into resistance at Monday night's council meeting.

The Spokane City Council has postponed a vote on whether to increase the fees it charges to organizations that hold events on city property.

Officials say they’re looking for a fair way to cover the costs of providing services to events, from neighborhood parades to Hoopfest. Leaders are considering charging an administrative fee when an organizer applies for an event permit and then flat fees based on the number of attendees. Events would pay nothing this year, but fees would ramp up over the next three years.

Office of Neighborhood Services Director Carly Courtright says the flat fee proposal was developed as an alternative to the city’s current fee structure for events to give event organizers certainty as to how much they would owe the city. For example, Bloomsday would pay $12,000 for security and other services in 2023, $24,000 in 2024 and $48,000 in 2025. City officials say that’s less than the approximately $50,000 the event pays now. Hoopfest would peak at $90,000 in 2025. Smaller events would pay less, depending on the number of people they draw.

“We heard loud and clear that there can be quite a bit of variation (in fees charged currently),” Courtright said.

Now that the idea has been formally proposed, it has not gone over well. Legacy events such as Bloomsday see it as a slap in the face, said former Bloomsday president Al Odenthal at a hearing on the proposal Monday night.

“We bring about $300,000 in tax dollars out of the $12 million economic impact to the city. I suggest to you when we’re bringing $300,000 into your budget, we’re covering our cost,” he said.

Mark Starr, another former president of the Lilac Bloomsday Association, suggested the city of Spokane should treat Bloomsday in the same way the city of Coeur d’Alene treats its Ironman competition.

“The city council and the chamber of commerce in Coeur d’Alene recognize the economic impact of Ironman in a way that we don’t here,” Starr said. “They pay Ironman $125,000 and some other considerations just to bring the event to Coeur d’Alene. What we’re asking for is to meet somewhere in the middle.”

The fee proposal was also panned by organizers of smaller events, such as Catherine Howell, the president of the Spokane Roteract Club, which sponsors the Junior Lilac Parade.

“This ordinance, if it were to pass, would end the Junior Lilac Parade in Spokane. We don’t have the manpower or the volunteer hours to put on our parade ourselves this year. We had to ask an outside organization to help us,” she said.

Courtright acknowledges it’s a difficult discussion. She says, in some cases, the upfront administrative fee, especially for larger events, will be nullified by the new flat structure. She says some events, especially Bloomsday, will benefit.

“Yes, there would be an increase in the application fee, which we’ve always charged, the $50. It is going to be increased there,” she said, “But their cost recovery for the public safety costs would come down and that would be the same for Hoopfest as well as Pig Out in the Park.”

City council members say they need more time to sort out the arguments.

“I just don’t know which way I would go today,” Council member Jonathan Bingle said. “If we voted today I’d probably abstain from the vote because I honestly don’t know where I’m at right now.”

The council voted to postpone the ordinance until its June 6 meeting.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.