The Howell City Council recently approved cost sharing amendments to the civic event policy.

Faced with pressing budget issues and an earlier decision to vote down a public safety assessment, members reiterated the decision was not taken lightly but is a compromise, compared to recouping 100% of the cost of services provided during festivals and events. The changes won’t kick in until January 2019, so this year’s events and festivals won’t be impacted. Council had quite a bit of conversation both last night and previously but felt it was the appropriate time to move forward. Charging fees for City services has been a recurring discussion item amongst Council, given what officials say is a broken state funding model plagued by years of cuts to municipalities everywhere. Prior to approval, leaders from the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce, Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority and the Howell Main Street all expressed concerns with how the policy would impact their budgets and potentially force them to discontinue events.

Ashley Prew spoke on behalf of the Howell Chamber Board of Directors to say they understand the budget issues and appreciate a strong partnership with the City and have no intention of skirting their financial responsibility to the community or city. However, she noted the Chamber and the Foundation have never petitioned for relief from substantial property taxes, despite being a non-profit, and further providing hundreds of volunteers for events. As a non-profit, Prew said the policy forces the Chamber to re-examine their budgets and seriously reconsider involvement in putting on the events, stressing it might not be financially possible to continue both the Balloonfest and Fantasy of Lights events in the long term. The Chamber further requested Council eliminate the cost share for Fantasy of Lights and/or Balloonfest in total or that it be reduced or be implanted on a gradual basis to address budgetary issues in years to come.

Mayor Nick Proctor commented it’s not easy but given the current fiscal environment and recent failure of a proposed public safety assessment, the City cannot sustain footing the bill for civic event services. He says Council is at the point where they have to provide some modest relief to the general fund and crafted a policy that is in-between doing nothing and 100% immediately. He noted the City does receive certain benefits and there is an economic impact that can’t be measured, as well as other intangibles for good will and reputation. However, Proctor says the City is getting stuck with the bill and paying a good chunk of money for people coming in from out of town, and they cannot continue to ask residents to foot the bill entirely.

City Manager Shea Charles tells WHMI the City should be able to recover around $40,000 in actual direct event costs, as in-direct costs are part of what they do. He says those include public works and police costs along with the cost for City staff to set-up, put out barricades, pick-up, and all of the other things to host events. The policy changes were approved unanimously. Council members Jan Lobur and Scott Niblock were absent. (JM)