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Citizens concerned over proposed special event ordinance

By Amanda Raymond
amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Community event organizers are concerned about the city’s proposed changes to the special events section of the city code.

A public hearing on the proposed changes will be held at the City Council meeting Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 217 S. Main St. at 5 p.m.

At the last City Council meeting, Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes presented the proposed ordinance, which included detailed definitions of demonstrations, picket lines or picketing, community events, general events, neighborhood events, organized activities, parades, festivals and special events.

Stokes said he wanted to ensure demonstrations and picket lines were not confused with other special events in order to protect First Amendment rights.

There was also a new 18-page application in the proposal that included a new fee and deadline schedule. The deadlines span from 30 days to 120 days for certain events and the application fee is set at $150 for most events. The current application fee is $25 for all events.

There are also late fees associated with the application and extra charges depending on the needs of the specific event, including charges for police security and street barricades and cones.

There are no application fees or late fees associated with demonstrations or picket lines.

Since the last meeting, spontaneous demonstrations have been added as an exception to the ordinance if they last less than 24 hours.

Rayna Gardner, general manager of the Forum, said the new fees will hurt those who organize fundraising events in the city. The Forum organizes the Butterball 5K on Thanksgiving to benefit Prevent Child Abuse Rowan and the Resolution 5K on New Year’s Day to benefit Rowan Helping Ministries.

Gardner said if they have to pay more in fees, they won’t be able to give as much to the organizations they are trying to help.

“It’s just going to cut into the amount that we can give,” she said.

Matthew Marsh, co-owner of the Forum and treasurer of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, said he was surprised to see the new fees in the proposed ordinance.

He said the application deadlines could be a problem for people who want to raise money for people who need immediate help, like people suffering from diseases.

Marsh said charity events bring a lot of people to the city from out of town, and the new fees may cut down on the number of events that are held in Salisbury.

“You’ve got this expense up front. I think it may deter some people from doing it,” he said.

Marsh said changes to the ordinance are needed, but the process should include input from the organizations that host the events.

Delaine Fowler, race director for the Teens with a Mission 5K, also said the new fees may be too burdensome for churches and community members.

“It will be unfortunate to see a lot of events that raise money for good causes go away,” she said.

She also said she understands that the city needs time to prepare for events, but the 120-day application deadline seemed a bit excessive.

Fowler said she thinks the ordinance can be tweaked to fit everyone’s needs.

“I think there’s a happy medium,” she said.

Tamara Sheffield said she did not feel the ordinance had enough input from the community, especially from those who organize the events.

She also said the ordinance probably needed to be updated, but the fees may make the community look unwelcoming toward special events. She said some events may turn to other cities instead.

“I just don’t want this city to seem difficult to deal with,” she said.

Sheffield said she was sure it was not the case that the city was imposing the fees to stop the events, some of which are held to benefit social causes, but some might see it that way.

“I hope that the changes are not malicious,” she said.

She suggested a committee be formed to gather input from community members and mold the ordinance to better fit Salisbury.

“Let’s not rush to judgment on this one,” she said.

Councilman David Post said numerous community members had contacted him and the other council members about the proposed changes to the ordinance.

He said he thought the chief’s goal with the changes was to create a more detailed document, not suppress any rights or stop the community from holding events.

Post said the council is not given the agenda and associated documents until a couple of days before the meeting and that does not give them enough time to review everything as thoroughly as they could.

He said he thinks the proposed ordinance should go to a committee so that there can be more of a discussion with the community.

“I think this has raised enough concerns that we should push it off for a couple of weeks and set up a committee and get the public to come in,” he said.

Mayor Karen Alexander also said she has received comments from citizens.

“We always value the reactions of our citizens,” she said.

She said public comment is needed so that the ordinance can be tailored to fit the community, but the needs of the police department have to be considered as well.

Alexander said it is unfair to raise taxes for all citizens in order to pay for the special events that not all participate in or organize, and it is also unfair for the police department to work extra hours without payment.

She said the council will probably not vote on the ordinance at the Nov. 15 meeting because there are too many questions that still need to be answered. She also said she was thinking about letting a council committee review the ordinance.

Alexander said she hopes the community will come with solutions and suggestions during the public hearing and not just complaints.

She said though some compromises will have to be made, if the council, Police Department and citizens work together, they will be able to craft a document that works for everyone.

“We do need to bring it into a reasonableness for all of us,” she said.

In other business, the council will:

  • Recognize those from the Fire Department who have earned Medical Lifesaving Commendations for 2016 and assisted with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
  • Consider approving the consent agenda, which includes:
    • A $5,000 budget ordinance amendment to the fiscal year 2016-17 budget to appropriate proceeds from selling Fire Department assets.
    • Approval of an asphalt bid to J.T. Russell and Sons, Inc., for a unit based contract with an estimated $471,950 for street paving.
  • Hold a public hearing and consider approving creating a dog park at Forest Hills Park at 230 Grove Street.
  • Make appointments to boards and commissions.
  • Hear public comment.
  • Hear comments from the city manager, including comments on the purchase of self-contained breathing apparatus for the fire department.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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