Palestine puts an end to park fee issue

EAST PALESTINE – The majority has weighed in.

Village Council this week struck down Don Elzer’s suggestion non-profit organizations use the Community Center free of charge.

The discussion that began in February came to an end when everyone on council but Elzer and Endia Wisser voted against an ordinance repealing the rental fee for the center at Village Park.

The legislation would have removed fees for non-profit organizations benefiting the community, including the one Elzer and Wisser are involved with.

Elzer is president and Wisser is vice-president of the local Chamber of Commerce. The non-profit organization currently meets at the Masonic Lodge on North Market Street.

Elzer said removing the fees is not about the money, but also stated that in the long run the village would benefit financially by doing so.

“We make more money by bringing those groups in here, letting them see what we have. If somebody moves in here (the village) by attending one of the Chamber’s events, then we make far more,” he said.

The Chamber previously held a meet and greet event for new and prospective businesses in the community at the center.

“Paying the village to bring in new businesses seems counter-productive,” he said.

Under the fee schedule in place by prior ordinance, non-profit organizations are 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.

The fee removal would have only applied to evening and weekend rentals.

The park gets about $2,000 a year in rental fees from non-profit organizations alone a fact that left some residents, and even Finance Director Traci Thompson wondering why taking away that revenue would be a good move.

Council and park board members have been discussing ways to generate more money at the park over the last year.

Councilman Fran Figley said that while Elzer’s suggestion had merit, it would be opening a “can of worms” because how would they decide which organizations qualified for free use?

That was the same sentiment expressed at the last meeting by park board member Sandy Wales, who is heading up the Dog Days event on May 11.

Wales said it didn’t make sense to “give away” the center for free when the park needs more money in the first place.

However, the community center has been used for free for Dog Days even though it does not fall under the criteria of a non-profit organization, a senior citizens group or club.

Elzer said he didn’t have a problem with the center being used for free that day, while Figley said he doesn’t think anyone should get it for free.

Wales has said the rental fee has not previously been charged for the event because a majority of the clean-up that day is at the park, and therefore, benefits the village.

Wisser then noted that a local dance class has used the center as well without being charged the rental fee, but Village Solicitor Shirley Smith said that is allowed under the original ordinance.

The ordinance allows for dance and instructional classes to be held there on weekdays with the stipulation that 50 percent of whatever they make be given to the village.

Thompson said the dance class did pay the 50 percent to the village for those classes.

Smith advised council prior to the vote they should follow the original ordinance that enforces the fee schedule.

Of Dog Days using it for free, she said, “Pete (Monteleone, village manager) and I have discussed that and it concerns me. If we have an ordinance it needs to be followed. I don’t know how you can’t do that. If we have an ordinance it needs to be followed.”

Wales has said before that if the rental fee is enforced for Dog Days the village will need to pay for the materials because the committee doesn’t have enough money to cover everything.

The committee offers a free lunch to all volunteers at the community center during the clean-up effort.

Council members, by 4-2 vote, then opted to continue adhering to the original ordinance and not change the fee schedule.