City council okays free use of city park by chamber for Rabbit Fest

Cove Leader-Press 

The Copperas Cove city council approved the use of City Park by the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce for Rabbit Fest, and other events, at no cost to the chamber via a new ordinance passed at Tuesday night’s city council meeting. 
The discussion over the proposed ordinance took up a chunk of the meeting before the council voted 5-2 in favor of the ordinance, with councilmen Dan Yancey, Jay Manning, Kirby Lack, Marc Payne, and Charlie Youngs casting “aye” votes and councilmen David Morris and James Pierce Jr. voting nay. 
Much of the discussion surrounded what about the chamber’s activities, particularly Rabbit Fest, constituted public purpose, with the ordinance drafted by the city attorney explaining what those justifications were. 
The new ordinance, 2018-10, states the chamber’s Rabbit Fest and other events have a “legitimate public purpose to enhance local tourism, recreation and entertainment opportunities and afford a clear public benefit as a result.”
Councilman Marc Payne summed up the thoughts behind his vote, calling any charges to groups like the chamber a penalty.
“I tend to strongly agree with Jay Manning that if we are having organizations that we have decided are providing a public purpose, then they are actually benefitting the city, and they are reimbursing for all the costs that they have, and why would we want to penalize a group that has a large event that brings in lots of tax dollars, lots of visitors, when they are providing a public purpose?” Payne said. “I just can’t imagine wanting to charge them extra money for it. We’re trying to motivate the citizens and bring people in, and we spend all kinds of tourism dollars trying to get people here, but if we’re going to penalize people for doing that, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Councilman James Pierce Jr. thought differently. His concern was the upkeep of the park after holding large-scale events such as Rabbit Fest, and what the cost is to the city’s parks department to care for that upkeep.
“I just want to say that I cannot believe we are going to give away city services for free. Yes, we are getting actual reimbursement. But we don’t know any unexpected costs that are going to come about, and this city has 33,000 people in it, and we need to look out for them…. we need some type of insurance that we can actually afford to do these projects, for someone coming in there, doing what they want to do and leaving and the city has to absorb unnecessary costs,” Pierce said. “Now we have a model of an ordinance that we are going to pass, who’s to say that some other organization could come in, take advantage of the city, city government, doing an event out there.”
Earlier in the meeting, Pierce had proposed striking the chamber of commerce from the ordinance and making it apply to all groups across the board that wanted to hold events on city property.
Councilman David Morris also spoke up for his nay vote, pointing to the fact that the chamber charges visitors who come through the park gates that entire timeframe.
“I don’t feel it meets the public purpose test. This is entertainment for ‘pay to play’ only. Our citizens have to pay to use our park that specific weekend. Our sales tax information here shows that during the month of May, we see a decline. I don’t feel it meets public purpose.” 
Three of the last five years, the sales tax has declined in May, according to the numbers reported by interim City Manager Ryan Haverlah. 
Payne countered that he thought the numbers were “deceptive” and he likened the sales tax impact of Rabbit Fest to other times like back to school shopping and Christmas time. He also said some of the reporting for sales tax from Rabbit Fest could lag into early June.
Despite the passage of the ordinance, the chamber is still responsible to pay direct costs for city services that are provided and connected to the events, which in 2017 amounted to $23,604.17.
The discussion of the prior ordinance, which allowed the city to charge the chamber up to 25 percent of its event profits as negotiated by the city manager, began in January with chamber reps pleading their case to the council, with chamber board chairman J.C. Stubbs telling the council then that the requirement “directly impacts the chamber of commerce’s ability to function as a chamber and service our members.” 
For 2016, the chamber paid the city $1,563.99, a 10 percent share; in 2017, that figure was $6,209.91, or 20 percent, which was then negotiated to a flat $5,000 donation to the park, Parks & Rec director Joe Brown told the council at that time.  
Other events covered by the chamber in the ordinance include the Rabbit Fest Parade, Krist Kindl Markt and annual Christmas parade, the Gallop or Trot, the Summer Run to Fun, the Jackrabbit Run 4 Hope, 
Also on Tuesday evening, the council approved payments to America’s Drug Free Productions, Inc. in the amount of $29,915 for eligible activities and expenses associated with the 2017 C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl, and to the Noon Exchange Club of Copperas Cove in the amount of $3,863.75 for the annual Feast of Sharing. 
The council voted unanimously to amend the City’s future land use plan for 806, 808 and 810 N. 3rd S. and 208 Sherman Ave., changing those properties from Low Density Residential to Medium Density Residential and to rezone those properties from R-1 (Single-Family Residential District) to R-3 (Multi-Family Residential District).  The properties’ owner plans to construct duplex and quadplex housing. 
The council held an executive session on Tuesday evening, during which it discussed possible candidates for the city manager position, but took no action after that session. 

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