SEBRING — Some organizers of special events are saying that Sebring city fees adopted for events two years ago are making it a struggle to hold the activities.
Lora Todd, who has canceled the 11th year of Run to the Heartland, said the fees and insurance costs were a major factor in canceling this year’s event.
Meanwhile, Casey Wohl, who helps organize the Highlands Art Leagues Annual Highlands Fine Arts and Crafts Festival, which has been held for 48 years, said it’s a struggle every year to break even, especially with the economy making it harder to find sponsors.
But Councilman John Griffin and Assistant City Administrator Bob Hoffman say the city’s fees to pay for police and fire protection, solid waste cleanup and other services are important. Otherwise, they say, it’s a question of whether taxpayers want to pay for the event.
Hoffman said city officials discussed for years imposing fees, but it was only in 2012 the fees were proposed.
Griffin, who runs Sebring Thunder, said he has no trouble finding enough sponsors. As for the fees, he said, every event needs police for crowd control and police at night to watch tents. Firefighters are needed to check for safety of booths that cook food and “somebody’s got to pick up all the garbage.”
It’s either the event organizers or the taxpayers who will pay for that, he said.
The fees include a $25 application fee, $30 an hour for police working in a supervisory role or $25 per hour for police officers. Other costs include stage rental for $150, $144 for street closures during normal hours and $216 for after hours.
They also charge $75 for trash pickup and $100 for a dumpster. Public works employees get paid $25 an hour.
But with nearly $1,100 in fees for the arts festival and the annual cost of $3,000 in cash awards to artists, the effort to put on the event is problematic, Wohl said.
“Part of the huge draw and success is that the festival relies on sponsorships to pay for the $3,000 in cash awards to artists (a big reason why many of the artists come to Sebring every year),” she said. “However, with city fees of more than $1,100 for the one-day event, the sponsorships are having to cover those expenses, as well. It has been very difficult in a down economy to get adequate sponsorships to cover these city fees.”
Todd said the organizers of Run to the Heartland are volunteers. With city fees exceeding $6,500, as well as rising insurance costs, organizers decided to take a new look at the event.
She said in big cities events make a lot of money that cover the fees, but in Sebring it’s another question. Todd, however, added that some of the fees are justified.
Todd said before the fees were adopted, the Roaring 20s festival was profitable. After that, it lost money, she said.
Hoffman said he sees the point, but it all comes down to who is going to pay for the festivals.
Todd and Wohl said the events help the economy by people staying at motels, shopping at businesses and eating at restaurants.
Hoffman said the city does try to help the event promoters when possible.
“We bend over to minimize the special events fees and costs,” he said.
The city doesn’t charge for events on holidays and doesn’t charge for work during normal working hours generally, he said.