City council, chamber hash over ordinance regarding activities licensing agreement
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce members and supporters along with chamber board members and staff turned out en masse for Tuesday’s Copperas Cove city council workshop.
The subject of discussion was an ordinance passed by the city council in August 2015, which authorized the city manager to execute licensing agreements with the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce for activities it holds on city property. The ordinance requires the chamber to reimburse the city for actual costs of providing services at chamber events on city property, and it also requires 25 percent of the proceeds from those events held on city property, as negotiated by the city manager.
The chamber makes its case for changes
Newly appointed chairman of the board for the chamber, J.C. Stubbs prefaced his request to the council by acknowledging the council and the chamber have the same goals – to make this a great community for not only citizens, but also its businesses.
Stubbs said he wanted to discuss how the ordinance impacts the chamber and how it “impacts our ability to be of service our members and businesses in Copperas Cove.”
He said although the chamber is a “not-for-profit” organization and the ordinance confirms the chamber is not in any way affiliated with the City of Copperas Cove, Stubbs questioned language in the ordinance that its event expenses must be reflected in the city budget.
Stubbs stressed one point that the chamber has no quibble with – compensating the city for its actual cost in providing services to chamber of commerce vents.
“I hope the media has their record buttone pressed,” Stubbs said. “The chamber of commerce of the city of Copperas Cove has absolutely no problem whatsoever compensating the City of Copperas Cove for services rendered when it uses public property.”
Stubbs asked that the phrasing in which the city receives “25 percent of all proceeds the chamber receives for use of city property for chamber sponsored events as negotiated by the city manager” be changed, as that requirement “directly impacts the chamber of commerce’s ability to function as a chamber and service our members.
“I know that you have the goal of doing what is best for the city and its constituents and for its businesses. It is the chamber’s opinion that this ordinance is in direct contradiction with that goal.”
He also said the chamber receives no public funding for any event it holds on city property and requested the compete “removal, repeal, eradication” of ordinance 2015-24. If not, then that the ordinance be amended to only apply to events in which the chamber receives hotel occupancy tax funds, and asked for removal of the 25 percent of proceeds.
Councilman Charlie Youngs said he didn’t think the ordinance was in the best interest of the city and that he thought it was “discriminatory” of one agency in the city.
What is public purpose?
Councilman Kirby Lack asked for confirmation that if another group were to use the park for a multi-day function, if that group would have to enter into a licensing agreement like the chamber. City manager Andrea Gardner confirmed that yes, that was the case.
Lack also asked for confirmation from the city attorney about what constitutes public purpose and the three “tests” that must be used when determining the public purpose of an event.
City Attorney Scott Osburn said the city is indeed prohibited from giving things of value or cash to private entities unless it complies with the three-part test of the Texas Supreme Court, one – public purpose; two – that the public body must retain control over the money or face value to ensure purpose is accomplished; and three – that the City receives a benefit from that money or thing of value. In the chamber’s case, that would be the leased value of a piece of city property.
“The city council as the legislative body has wide discretion to make a determination as to what is a public purpose, i.e., in relation to the chamber functions which bring public benefit to the city, within the city council’s discretion,” Osburn said.
No fee for City Park rental itself – yet
City Manager Andrea Gardner spoke up, telling the council that presently there is no item on the city’s fee schedule for renting City Park.
“Therein lies the problem. If the council wants to open that up and offer it for people to lease, then we need to add that to the fee schedule with the cost associated with it.”
Councilman James Pierce Jr. then said, if there’s not a fee for a group like the chamber to utilize City Park for an event, what is the cost of bringing that property back to where it needs to be after being used for multiple days at a time?
“If there is some type of reimbursement from an organization that uses our facilities, that’s going to help the city in general,” Pierce said. “We’re embarking on a multimillion-dollar endeavor to renovate all of our parks, but we’re not going to ask for something in return from someone using our facilities, that’s going to be set up several days in a row? We’re letting people stay here for multiple days in a row and we’re asking for 25 percent to help.”
Councilman Youngs said perhaps that item – a rental fee for City Park – should be discussed when the council discusses changes to the fee schedule.
Pierce added that “fair is fair” where it concerns an operational fee, to be fair across the board for any organization or nonprofit that uses facilities.
Brown cites invoices paid – and not paid – by chamber
Parks and Recreation Director Joe Brown briefed the council on what the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce has paid for the fees related to the ordinance being discussed. It was late spring or early summer 2017, Brown said, when they realized they hadn’t collected any of the ordinance-related fees from the chamber.
“In all actuality, the only fees (paid) are direct/indirect costs related to exhibit C,” Brown said. The amount paid by the chamber to the City for last year’s Rabbit Fest was $23,604.17 for direct costs, such as paying police officers for traffic control and patrolling at the park.
Brown told the council the city has issued two invoices specific to the percentage the city manager could negotiate as per the ordinance. He said the chamber was invoiced 10 percent for events in fiscal year 2016, in the amount of $1,563.99. The second invoice was for fiscal year 2017, for 20 percent – amounting to $6,209.91, “of which the chamber said, ‘We’re not paying, we’ll just pay you $5,000. We got a donation for $5,000 as it relates to that invoice,” Brown added.
“A lot has been made and said through emails and in the newspaper of the 25 percent as it relates to the designation of the city manager…In all actuality, we have not collected 25 percent and what we have collected is far less than 25 percent.”
Gardner stated the intent of the ordinance language was that it would be negotiated starting at 25 percent and then going down.
“That is the application that has been applied ever since this ordinance has been in place, from Betty Price to the current president. I find out from them what they’re doing with the net profits. There have been times they’ve donated a large portion to the Hope Pregnancy Center, the Thespian Club, and when those are the situations I look at the all the figures and determine what is appropriate based off public purpose doctrine.”
Gardner said she felt like “we had been working quite well together in negotiating those. I had agreed to the $5,000. It was not harsh, either direction. I think there’s a lot of confusion over what has really occurred over the time in which the ordinance has been in effect. I think there are some harsh feelings over the ordinance, period.”
Finally, an outcome – to be determined
Councilman Marc Payne asked that the city attorney provide more information to the city council, where it concerns ensuring that the use of the property adheres to the public purpose.
“I’d like for us to get it worked out where both the city and chamber makes money, and we grow this thing. Rabbit Fest was a huge thing in the 90s.”
During the meeting, when it came time to take action on the item, Charline Youngs first made a motion that the ordinance be rescinded in its entirety and be written without including the licensing agreement. Then councilman Lack moved to postpone the action until the city attorney brings more information as requested by Payne, which they voted to approve. The ordinance will now be up for discussion and direction at the first meeting in February, then be up for action at the February 20 meeting.