Champaign council OKs developing guidelines for sponsoring special events

Champaign council OKs developing guidelines for sponsoring special events

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign City Council members directed staff Tuesday to prepare a policy setting guidelines for how the city sponsors and funds special events.

The city code defines a special event as one requiring use of the right of way within Champaign, but there's no formal guidelines currently in place for determining the amount of money the city gives out or reimburses or that addresses the staff impact of processing applications and handing out money.

The city currently treats requests on a case-by-case basis. And although it makes sure that agreements between itself and organizations putting on events like the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, Pygmalion Festival and Friday Night Live are financially net neutral, council member Alicia Beck was quick to point out discrepancies in payments due back to the city.

She said the amount of unreimbursed costs that city staff outlined in a memo to council members last week was suspect and wondered whether it was the norm for the city not to be paid back.

Deputy City Manager Matt Roeschley said situations where the city doesn't receive payment are "the exception rather than the rule," and added that there are existing practices within city departments that didn't arise because of any policy that made it a de facto rule to waive costs peripherally related to an event, such as roadblocks and police overtime.

The council was not ready Tuesday to give the authority to grant sponsorship or case-by-case funding of special events to a commission, as some other cities in the state have done. So members directed staff to come up with guidelines they can use when considering special-event funding.

For council member Greg Stock, keeping that power in the hands of the council is about money.

"I don't think we have the money or the staff for it," he said. "And I also would like to see some sort of tightening of what kind of evaluation procedures we have."

Other council members — and Mayor Deb Feinen in particular — echoed Stock's sentiments that the point of a new policy might mean considering fewer special-event funding requests. And council member Matthew Gladney went further and asked staff to stick to the policy once it's written.

"I want strict adherence to this policy, at least initially," Gladney said. "Because otherwise, what's the point? If we're doing this on a case-by-case basis, then we don't want to be too flexible on the policy. I'm surprised some organizations have not called us out on why we support certain things and not others. We want to bring some fairness and equitability to this process."

On the issue of staffing, council member Angie Brix said she would like to see what the Champaign Center Partnership can do to help, since most of the events the city currently funds happen in the central business district. She also called for having a strong requirement for post-event information and reporting.

"I like funding on the back end of things," Brix said.

She added that another aspect of the policy could be consideration for events that might expose people to other neighborhoods of the city, an idea council member Vanna Pianfetti said she supports.

Council members also praised Urbana's system of funding special events and called for the implementation of a tiered system of funding.

"I like the aspect of having some minimum amount of dollars already dedicated to the event before asking for funding," Feinen said. "You have to have some skin in the game before even thinking about funding from us. If you want the bigger money, the top-tier money, you have to have some of your own money."