Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — When Ebertfest organizers recently approached the city about sponsoring the 21-year-old downtown film festival, they were told it wasn't possible.

There were two reasons, according to city documents: a lack of funding and the lack of a formal policy governing sponsorship of special events.

That case exposed a hole in the city code, one that council members will discuss at a study session tonight.

Among the questions council members will be asked to consider, according to a memo prepared for tonight's meeting: How should the city support special events like the 45 it issued permits for in 2018, if at all?

And, should it establish a formal policy for how it treats such events beyond what exists in city code now: a basic definition of "special event"?

The way the city has supported events in recent years is not sustainable, according to staff. Based on Champaign's financial forecast, they wrote, "it is unlikely that the city could identify recurring funding for special-event support without cuts to existing initiatives or finding a new revenue source."

The city devotes about $120,000 annually to sponsorship of special events, with $50,000 of it in cash and the rest in covering police, fire and public works costs.

Among the big-ticket events the city currently supports:

— The Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, for $2,500.

Following the event, that amount is subtracted from promoters' public-safety service bill, which last year totaled $27,470.05, according to the memo.

— Friday Night Live, for which the city does not issue a public-works bill to organizer 40 North.

In 2018, the city's "unreimbursed public-safety service costs was just over $22,000," according to the memo to council members. The city also provides 40 North $30,000 annually, the result of a "formalized" agreement reached in 2017.

If the city wants to maintain its current level of funding for special events, staff estimated that about $65,000 in annual funding should be set aside.