ALBANY -- The discussion over a planned downtown event may prompt city officials to develop a policy on when to administer fees to cover city services rendered for festivals.
Downtown businessman Omar Salaam is attempting to organize a Junkanoo festival in downtown Albany. Originally set for Saturday, the event has been moved to May 5 because of expected inclement weather.
But before Salaam chose to move the festival -- a common celebration in the Caribbean islands -- Albany City Commissioners were flummoxed over whether they should charge him a fee for the cost of city services that would have to be rendered to pull off the event like street barricades and the use of bleachers.
City Manager James Taylor said there is currently no policy that states when commissioners can charge fees for use of city services as it pertains to festivals. There is only a state law that says city governments can't give away city property or services unless they're for the benefit of the community.
Prior to Taylor's ascension to city manager, the city was inconsistent in its application of fees for events or organizations.
The generally accepted rule, according to Taylor, was that latitude was given to nonprofit organizations like the Convention and Visitors Bureau or the Downtown Merchants Association, which sponsored festivals with no intent of making a profit.
"I don't see why we waive fees," Ward V Commissioner and Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Langstaff said. "If city services are being used, it seems to me that the taxpayers should be reimbursed."
Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines was worried about setting a precedent for a policy that doesn't really exist.
"The next time something like this comes around, can we look back and say that this was a one-time thing or have we set some precedent that we'll have to follow?" Hines said.
Commissioner Christopher Pike said that waiving the fees is an incentive for people to bring more events into the city -- even if it's a one-time thing.
"We say we want people to come downtown and get involved, but when people try and put on events we cherry pick the ones we like and the ones we don't," Pike said.
Ultimately, the commission voted 5-1, with Langstaff voting against, to waive Salaam's fee and grant special exemptions for the noise ordinance for the entertainment at the event.
"I'm just trying to bring an event here that I think will be a positive for the city," Salaam said. "Something that will bring some more culture downtown. I just want them to be fair and equal so we can bring people downtown."