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Public Safety Commission criticizes Special Events Ordinance

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 by Adam Schragin

Members of the Public Safety Commission, upset that they could not get information on the amount of money Special Events were costing the city, passed a resolution on Monday asking that the city monitor such expenses and seek reimbursement.


The action came following a presentation on the city’s proposed new Special Events Ordinance, which is designed to streamline the process of obtaining permits for special events, ranging from one-time festivals to major ongoing events.


Commissioner Mike Levy complained that some costs of special events – including non-reimbursable overtime – are being passed along to the taxpayers and not reimbursed to those areas from which the services were collected. 


For example, Austin Police Assistant Chief Brian Manley explained that while police officers were being pulled in from all over Austin for South by Southwest, the costs for their overtime did not go back to their home districts. 


Commissioner Ramey Ko said that while the commission agrees that special events are what “makes Austin Austin” and that fees for events already cover “direct” costs, those “indirect” costs were either not being reimbursed or even accounted for.


“Now that we’re revisiting the ordinance, now we should do the research…to have an accounting for indirect costs,” Ko said. 


The discussion and resolution came after a presentation on the Special Events Ordinance by Gordon Derr, Assistant Director of Transportation Planning.  Derr told commissioners that  the Austin Center for Events was created in 2012 and designed to streamline permits for events. Special events, he said, range from small one-time affairs during festival season to venues with year-round schedules (as is the case with the Circuit of the Americas). 


The center’s goal is to “develop one single, comprehensive application” for special events that eliminates duplications from separate city entities.


The center is staffed by different members of the city’s departments. Among its other duties, it determines what is and isn’t a special event, the process by which special events will be granted permits, and the rules that govern the administration of the ordinance.


The three-part resolution urges the City Council and the center to ensure that the recapturing of money for special events takes into account the true impact of events on city resources. It also asks the Council to determine how such money is returned. And third, that the Public Safety Commission be included in the rule-making process going forward.


Commissioners said they want any recaptured costs returned to the appropriate department and not falling into a city-wide “slush fund,” according to Commissioner Kent Anschutz. 


Outgoing Chair Michael Lauderdale will present the resolution to Council.

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