Palestine rental fee law stands

EAST PALESTINE – A councilman’s effort to remove fees for non-profit organizations using the community center at village park has been stalled.

Don Elzer’s recent suggestion to no longer charge rental fees for non-profits was met with opposition by some residents and council members, and Councilman Alan Cohen said Monday the motion passed at the last meeting is not valid.

Cohen explained that because the rental fees exist as a result of a prior ordinance, removing them for non-profits would need to be done through an ordinance as well, not a motion.

Elzer’s Feb. 11 motion that non-profit organizations benefiting the village use the community center for free passed with four council members in favor and two opposed.

Those opposed were Jim Tyger and Ellen Beagle.

Removing the fees would only be for evening and weekend rentals since non-profit organizations are currently not charged for use of the center Monday through Thursday between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The center has always been available at no charge on weekdays to senior citizens groups and various club meetings, with others being charged between $50 to about $200 for 12,- 4- and 2-hour rentals.

Elzer argued that because the center is for the community, non-profit organizations that benefit the village should be allowed to use it without being charged.

Cohen told Elzer and other council members that since Feb. 11 he has been approached by several people who opposed removing the fees.

“Two people made a valid point, I thought … They said, ‘We just passed that tax levy for the park and now you want to turn around and give this to people for free?’ That just hit home with me,” he said.

Another resident who opposed the idea was David Kibler.

Kibler, who lives on East Martin, asked to speak to council at the Monday meeting and questioned what right they had to allow the organizations free use.

Elzer said the organizations have put money – sometimes several thousands of dollars – into the town each year.

“The EPYSA (East Palestine Youth Sports Association) put $30,000 in the baseball field over the last year. The garden club spent $8,000 on Christmas decorations for the city,” he said.

Council member Ellen Beagle believed Elzer was “comparing apples to oranges,” however.

” ‘Community’ doesn’t mean ‘free.’ It should be rented. We need the money, number one. Plus we have the park levies,” she said.

Elzer countered the organizations need money as well.

Finance Director Traci Thompson previously said removing the fees doesn’t make financial sense when council has been trying to generate more revenue for the park, and noted on Monday the park received $2,000 in fees last year from non-profit organizations alone.

At the last meeting she told council that money collected in community center rental fees in 2012 was down almost $5,000 compared to 2011.

Organizations that paid to use the center last year were Threshold Services, Head Start, the Historical Society, Boy Scouts, football and volleyball teams, and others.

Councilman Fran Figley asked if any members of the organizations were at the meeting to hear the discussion and if so, what was their opinion. No one indicated they were from the organizations and no input was offered.

Councilwoman Endia Wisser said the Rotary showed support of removing the fee following the Feb. 11 discussion.

The club built the facility that has been used by the community the last several years.

Figley said he could see both sides of the matter and asked what it would “hurt” to continue enforcing the fee.

Elzer said, “It hurts … because the village isn’t a part of any of the things moving forward.”

Cohen disagreed.

“We aren’t saying we don’t want any part of that, we are saying to move forward we need to charge you rent to be here,” he said.

Mayor Margo Zuch said that unless a new ordinance is passed the fees will remain.

Council members are continuing to discuss the matter and no action was taken during the meeting.