CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign City Council is still trying to settle on guidelines for helping it determine which events to sponsor.
At Tuesday’s meeting, city staff recommended not sponsoring any events, as there isn’t a recurring source of revenue, but multiple members said the council likely wouldn’t follow that, and that it could discourage worthy events from coming to Champaign.
“What if SXSW said we wanted to do a SXSW-CU, and then we point to this and say, ‘Yeah, we’re not doing it because we don’t fund anything like that’?” Mayor Deb Feinen said. “I think the idea that we never would is a lie.”
But at-large council member Tom Bruno argued that the current lack of guidelines makes for bad policy.
“Without a regulated policy, we may be tempted to just sponsor the person who comes to us first and says, ‘This is the great thing I’m doing for the community, would you sponsor it?’” said Bruno, who added that organizers who ask first or have better connections might unfairly be prioritized.
“It’s awfully easy to make charitable donations with other people’s money,” he said. “But when we tax people, and force them to pay taxes to the city, then giving it away for charitable purposes is a slippery slope.”
When the council last discussed event sponsorship in April, it wasn’t ready to give authority to a commission to grant sponsorship or funding, so instead directed staff to create guidelines.
Staff came back Tuesday with the recommendation that the city shouldn’t sponsor or fund events, with narrow exceptions for existing agreements with 40 North’s Friday Night Live program and the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon.
Feinen asked if the IHSA boys’ basketball tournament could also be exempted, as the city just pledged $50,000 a year to the area’s effort to bring back the tournament it once hosted.
“If they wanted to have the 27th-mile kind of thing like they do for the marathon, and they wanted to do something on the city streets. If there were something that were to involve permitting, would this preclude us from having made a pledge to IHSA?” Feinen asked.
Deputy City Manager Matthew Roeschley said he didn’t think it would.
“We could craft an exception that would that would make clear that we have an existing arrangement,” he said.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, they again directed staff to prepare for another study session on guidelines for event sponsorship.
“Are there some standards? Should the application tell us what the economic benefit to the community is? Or the community benefit if it’s not economic? What are those things? Even if it’s just some bullet points,” Feinen said.
City staff also recommended several technical changes to the special events ordinance, such as:
— Raising the minimum limit of liability insurance required from $300,000 to $1 million per occurrence to bring it in line with industry standards.
— Adding a $20-per-day late fee for special-permit applications not submitted more than 30 days before the event.
— Allowing the city to deny special-permit applications if the organizers owe the city money.
Council members didn’t appear to have any objections to these changes, and they will be brought back at future meetings for a vote.