Will Charleston’s race-fee plan reach finish line?

A proposed ordinance to impose fees on 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer races in Charleston could be taken off Monday’s City Council agenda, although no city officials were willing to say that for certain Friday afternoon.

Councilman at-large Andy Richardson made the request to Parks and Recreation Committee Chairwoman Susie Salisbury after email correspondence between members showed a need “for further evaluation and stakeholder input before consideration by Finance.”

The bill, which City Council members are scheduled to consider Monday, would establish a set racecourse somewhere in Charleston, which could be used for $500. If a group wanted to use Kanawha Boulevard, it would cost the group $1,000, plus $1 for each registered participant. Charges for a customized course would start at $750 and would “be determined by the Events Coordinator, on a case-by-case basis based on city resources necessary to safely accommodate a customized course,” the proposed ordinance states.

While Finance Committee Chairman Bobby Reishman wrote in an April 18 email “discussion as to how this is equitably received” should take place in the Parks and Recreation Committee, he said Friday afternoon the bill will still be taken up Monday.

“There’s some discussions about amendments that could make things more palatable to everybody,” Reishman told the Gazette-Mail. “At this point, it’s still on the agenda.”

City Manager David Molgaard said the bill was set to run at Monday night’s City Council meeting, as of Friday afternoon, but there could be some changes that were discussed in a meeting with Mayor Danny Jones and members of the Parks and Recreation and Finance committees.

Possible changes to the bill could eliminate the $1.00 fee per race participants for events on Kanawha Boulevard, Molgaard said. Instead, a flat fee of $2,200 would be required to use the boulevard, which is the cost to the city for a 5-kilometer event, Molgaard said.

Another amendment could eliminate the $750 fee for a customized racecourse, instead making “it clear the fee will be the cost anticipated to be incurred by the city,” Molgaard said.

A third amendment states that the designated events coordinator will create and publish two set courses by October of this year. Those courses would still cost $500, Molgaard said.

One amendment eliminates a provision that offers a partial or whole fee waiver for nonprofits, and instead waives fees for events in 2014. Nonprofits looking to hold a race in 2015 would be subject to the proposed fees, Molgaard said.

“That’s the feedback that we got,” Molgaard said Friday. “People didn’t like the idea that a council committee would be able to hold sway on who got the waiver and who didn’t.”

Council members outlined a host of questions and concerns related to the proposal in emails exchanged Wednesday through Friday. Richardson’s concerns include requests to see a breakdown of costs associated with each run’s course, as well as whether those costs would be included in the registration fees for city-sponsored runs.

Richardson also asked if the bill’s effective date — planned for July 1 — could be delayed until late summer or early fall “to provide notice and thereby allow groups to charge a little extra on registration fees to accommodate our new charge.”

Councilman Adam Knauff passed on questions he has received from constituents in an April 13 letter to Salisbury, Molgaard and Parks and Recreation Director John Charnock. Knauff asked why there should be an additional $1 fee per runner for organizations that want to use Kanawha Boulevard for a race; if the Charleston Distance Run is subject to the proposed fees; what percentage of costs to the city come from large races; would the number of races ever increase?

Councilmen Chris Dodrill and Bill Kirk wrote they would not support the proposal as it’s currently written.

Richardson also expressed concern that implementing such fees might be unwise after the Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley.

“Since we are trying to rebuild our community image after the water crisis in January, this seems to me to be a peculiar time to levy such heavy fees on groups that use Charleston as a venue for non-profit fundraising through charitable runs,” Richardson wrote.

Knauff said he is worried that the West Virginia Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure would make good on its warning that it might leave the city because of the fees. Officials with the organization wrote a letter to City Council members that criticized the city for not involving the organization in discussions about the ordinance and indicated that it would look elsewhere to stage the race in the future.

“We can’t afford to lose Susan G. Komen’s Race For The Cure — not now, not ever, but certainly not now, of all times,” Knauff wrote. “I don’t think they’re bluffing about leaving, and even if I thought they were bluffing, we don’t have the cards to call a bluff, thanks to the water crisis.”

Charleston Assistant Mayor Rod Blackstone issued a draft response to Knauff, dated April 17, in which he explained the city’s position and reasoning behind the proposed ordinance. The city spent about $41,000 in overtime expenses in 2013, Blackstone wrote.

“That included everything from Color Vibe, which paid us more than $9,000 to cover our costs, and the Charleston Distance Run, which was fully subsidized, to the smaller ones such as Girls on the Run, also fully subsidized,” Blackstone wrote.

An average distance race costs the city $512 in overtime wages for four police officers, Molgaard told the Gazette-Mail on Thursday, and a race on Kanawha Boulevard costs $2,225 for police and street department wages.

Blackstone wrote that municipalities across the country are charging fees for such events, and noted that he was told race organizers have started to increase runner registration fees to recover those costs.

“Most people understand that municipal services are really not ‘free,’ ” Blackstone wrote. “I’m struck by resulting threats and anger from folks who conveniently seem to ignore completely the years of generosity that helped these organizations raise more money, effectively at the expense of our city’s taxpayers.”

The city has been charging private walks and runs, such as The Biggest Loser and The Dirty Girl Mud Run, for those expenses, Blackstone wrote. The Charleston Distance Run wouldn’t be exempt from the proposed ordinance, he said.

There are options built into the proposed ordinance that would allow organizations to apply for partial or whole fee waivers. The ordinance states that a nonprofit group can request a fee waiver from the Parks and Recreation Committee “in accordance with the rules promulgated by the Events Coordinator.” The committee would have $20,000 each year “or other such amount” to waive partial or entire fees, the bill states.

Monday’s City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m., in City Hall.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.

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