BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville's fee waiver program is once again under scrutiny by City Council members who feel the municipality shouldn't have to foot the entire bill for traffic and crowd control at parades, festivals and other large gatherings.
The subject came up at Monday's council meeting after a request from Hernando County NAACP president Paul Douglas for $1,600 in fee waivers for traffic control for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade planned for Jan. 20.
Douglas, who is chairman for the parade, said that while he had hoped to secure volunteer help from other sources, including the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, he had run out of time. The city's fee waiver program, he said, was his last hope.
While council members ultimately approved the expenditure, everyone agreed that the city being the sole provider of extra help for such events has become something of an unfair financial burden on city taxpayers.
Council member Lara Bradburn said that the city has become the "fallback plan" for organizers of community events that should be coordinated between both the municipality and the county.
"We shouldn't own all the responsibility because they take place on city streets," Bradburn said. "It would be nice to have some help."
For the past two years, the City Council has budgeted $7,000 to waive expenditures for such things as police presence, road closures and parade permits for nonprofit events that meet specific criteria and are deemed by the council to be positive for the city's image.
However, that fund is often quickly depleted. In fact, three events last year — the Veterans Appreciation Parade, Brooksville Kiwanis Christmas Parade and the Brooksville Cycling Classic — used the lion's share of the designated fund, leaving other fee waivers to be paid from the city's reserve funds.
Council member Joe Bernardini said he believes part of the problem is the city's policy of using only city police personnel to staff events. The city charges organizers $25 per hour per officer for a minimum of three hours.
"That kind of cost adds up quick," Bernardini said. "And if it's on a holiday, it's even more expensive."
City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said that the $1,540.62 cost for the 13-member police detail for the Martin Luther King parade includes the standard overtime rate that is required by federal wage and hour laws. In addition to paid police officers, the detail will include five volunteers from the city's Community Emergency Response Team.
Bernardini said he wondered why the city didn't have an agreement to use sheriff's reserve and auxiliary volunteers, and that the city needs to consider asking other agencies such as the Florida Highway Patrol and perhaps officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to send volunteer help for such events.
"We should put out a proposal any time we have an event like this," Bernardini said. "I think we would find plenty of people who would willingly give their time, and there would be no cost to the taxpayers."
The council agreed to send a letter to Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis, asking him to provide as many volunteers as possible. Council members also agreed to schedule a future workshop to consider further changes to the city's fee waiver program.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.