A full eventing was in store for the council and the public as, as the city council held back-to-back workshops on Monday evening.
First up was the Special Events Workshop, followed by a Budget Workshop.
With the entire council present, Mayor Nick Girone began the special events portion by explaining, “Before we start, I guess there’s a little confusion out there in public that this meeting is more than what it is. The meeting was called by council to get a special presentation from Mr. Hughes on the city’s role in special events.”
“This portion is a presentation, not a workshop,” he said. City Manager Kim Leinbach then explained that the meeting on special events was to lay the foundation for council to then have subsequent meetings on special events.
Parks and Recreation Director Roy Hughes then launched into a presentation on the uses and community impacts of the Mount Dora’s own community building – after he plugged an upcoming screening by the city of the movie “Honky Tonk Freeway” happening in Elizabeth Evans Park on August 19th.
Hughes introduced Chris Carson, who coordinates and schedules events at the community building, along with the city’s many partners and clients, who are a part of that endeavor. He explained Carson works as a liaison between users and potential users of the building and the city departments and staff required to hold productions.
A brief history of the building was offered, noting that the facility had been both built, and subsequently updated through community financial support and outreach. He explained that the building was not only a theater, but a building available for use by the community for uses as diverse as concerts, theatrical shows, wedding receptions, parties, government meetings and art exhibits.
Rental rates for the building, says Hughes, were established over time through a committee that came together and looked at competing facilities and the purposes for which the council wanted the building used (citizen accessibility).
Hughes went on to explain that the community building has 52 productions scheduled this year (concerts and shows) and that the number does not include smaller, community-based events.
The community building is booked 60% of the weekends throughout the year and 55% of weekdays, according to the Parks and Recreation Department. The building’s bookings, explained Hughes pump nearly a million dollars into the local economy (based on attendance data provided by Mount Dora and analyzed by Lake County’s Economic Development Department).
“We have a model, it’s working and I think its continuing to grow,” said Hughes.
Council member Cal Rolfson asked if the staff was looking for donors to help the city pay for replacing the building’s antiquated sound system. Hughes responded, comparing the existing system to an 8-track player, adding that we are living in a bluetooth world now.
Council member Mark Slaby wanted to know, “How often do we turn people down because the facility is already booked?” Adding, “I don’t need to know the answer, the fact that you don’t have the answer kinda tells me the answer.”
Hughes, shaking his head slightly, said, “I do have an answer. We haven’t turned anyone away. If we have someone inquire about a date that’s already booked, we work with them to try to find another date.”
Slaby also said he wanted the city to track the economic input for the events. He mentioned coupons that could be used in conjunction with purchases of tickets. Hughes explained that there was already a process for doing that, as Visit Mount Dora often offers coupons with online ticket sales.
Council member Marc Crail wanted to know what benefits council could expect if they spend $91,000 on a sound system for the community building. Chris Carson responded that the venue would be more attractive to larger acts if the building was better able to accommodate the needs of more acts – and reminded council of the difficulty they were currently experiencing with the sound system whenever they held meetings at that location.
Rolfson reminded the council that an investment in the building represented an investment in the economic wellbeing of the town, since events held there did add money to the local economy through commerce downtown.
The council then discussed special events such as fairs and festivals with Hughes offering a brief background on their history. He explained that events and the coordination of events were moved to his department five years ago when Chris Carson was hired by the city.
Hughes explained the importance of the city having special event partnerships to help with logistics and leveraging relationships for sponsorships and advertising.
The city’s ‘cornerstone events’ would cost the council about $130,000 to hold, but partnerships and sponsors brought the city’s investment down to about $80,000. He said a modest estimate of the returns on the $80,000 investment would be $6,000,000 annually, according to Hughes.
He explained event fees could be raised to the event organizers but, they do currently reimburse the city for expenses. He also said that without events Mount Dora, “may not have a downtown.” He said the city was not equipped to advertise or promote events to the extent ($100,000+ per year) that event sponsors did. He also made a point to say that downtown property values would be lower without events and that Mount Dora is known as a festival city.
Rolfson said he was impressed with the economic impact of Mount Dora’s events. He felt they help reduce the need and pressure to raise millage rates on residents.
Slaby wanted to explain his viewpoint, saying, “I have to say that the crankiness of my questions is only because I am looking out for the city as I see it. So while you might say that it’s festivals that bring folks here; I’m going to say that maybe it’s trees, maybe it’s pretty houses, whatever it is. I agree there is obviously an economic impact, it’s silly to not say there is.” He said he liked the events and would like to see even more of them but he wanted to look at the rate structure to encourage whatever behavior the city was looking for.
Crail said he appreciated the presentation by Parks and Recreation, it helps him understand what needs to be done relative to events, budget-wise. He hopes the city’s partnerships with event organizers stays strong and he wants to meet with stakeholders and events organizers.
Council member Ed Rowlett seemed confused about the amount the city was paying out to hold events. Though he was corrected, he did not back off of his assertion that the city pays $167,000 to run events. Rowlett said he felt that cornerstone events (4th of July Parade put on by Golden Triangle Rotary, African American History Festival, the Back to School Rally, Light Up Mount Dora, Children’s Snow in the Park, etc.) should be profitable to the city. He also mentioned not liking “middlemen” when the city has food trucks come to town, presumably talking about the Chamber of Commerce’s monthly food truck event.
The council took a brief recess before reconvening to hold a budget workshop.
City Manager Kim Leinbach reported to changes made to the budget at the request of City Council during their last workshop.
Mike Sheppard, Finance Director, referred to a memorandum presented to City Council resulting from the last budget meeting. He gave a brief overview of the changes made in the budget. Staff cut several options for Parks and Recreation, among others – such as retrofitting some vehicles. The splash park was one of the budgetary victims, it was cut.
There were items removed from the capital expenditures budget. A storage building was also cut for the police. Money for a new public works complex was discussed, financing options were reviewed and adjusted.
Rowlett was confused about the public works space being discussed, Mayor Girone tried to explain that the numbers were placeholders and were not concerns at this time.
The 950 Donnelly Building (where Mount Dora’s Parks and Recreation Building is currently located) must be used for a public purpose, according to the deed – which was of interest to council members, who were preciously discussing consolidating the Parks and Recreation Department and IT with Public Works in one location. The council is considering $6,000,000 for public works space. With limited ability to sell the building, according to deed provisions, council members seemed interested in working around the provisions, if possible.
Council is looking at security for city hall ($80,000 – cameras and bulletproof glass and panic stations are included) and sidewalk and street improvements. The money would come from discretionary sales tax.
Economic Development options were discussed.
- Hire a consultant – least expensive ($100,000)
- Hire a Director Position, sharing admin assistance ($177,000)
- Hire a Director and Assistant for Economic Development – most expensive ($229,000)
The city manager recommends the least expensive option.
Rolfson supports option 1 most strongly but would be interested in option 3.
Tillett wanted option 3. Not necessarily an in-house person, it could be a firm hired – just do it.
Leinbach offered his support for the less expensive option. Vince Sandersfeld mentioned that the council may get the most bang for their buck by hiring a firm, instead of a person.
Girone mentioned that Lake County Economic Development wants to work with the City. He wants to “jump” on something. Having a consultant and be looking for an Economic Development Director is what he would like to see. He wants them to recruit for the city. He wants to extend contracts with the Renaissance Group, though he said bids could be taken, they are already involved in working with the city. He wants an expedited process to find someone – doesn’t want to do it “on the cheap.”
Rowlett said the consultant group brings more resources to the table than an individual will.
Slaby wants to “get across the river, by analogy.” He wants to fund it, now and discuss how it will be done later.
The City Council consensus was to add $200,000 in the budget for economic development.
Crail reminded council there may be other buildings they can sell or consolidate. He reminded the City Council that a close second priority to economic development was maintenance and upkeep on assets of the City.
Council decided they wanted to additional positions added for buildings maintenance.
Leinbach said if the desire of City Council is to fund two positions for building maintenance, the unfunded positions, staff will look at it and get it done.
Tillett said there should be “two worker bees” added to the budget, then asked if instead there was a need for skilled workers? Hughes said he needed a skilled worker and an electrician.
Crail said the other part of that rationale was a couple of key people need succession planning should they opt to retire or leave, so emphasis on the skills will be important. Council decided on an addition of an electrician and a skilled worker.
Tillett said when she looks at special events budget, she sees transfers from general fund in 2015. She notes a pretty heavy increase and asked if the increase gives indication that there are more special events being planned. She said it is a 22% increase in money coming out of the general fund.
Sheppard said there are no additional events being planned as far as he knows.
Rowlett wants to go ahead with increasing event costs to organizers. Tillett thinks cornerstone events should be provided by the city but that events other people put on should be charged increasing fees. She sees no problem with increasing prices to those people who put on events besides the city.
Rowlett sees partners in events as middlemen.
Crail does not want to damage community relationships and partnerships. He thinks small incremental pricing may be reasonable to look at, but not large increases.
Girone said events are fragile. He said the vendors in town are also stakeholders. If the profits are decreased, another city may want to take the event. He pointed out events could fall like the boat show did.
Rowlett was again stated he thought cornerstone events should make money for the city.
Mr. Rolfson brought up the Head Start program building (the Milner Rosenwald School). He said the city should make sure that the building is in basic minimum health and safety code standards if the people using that building aren’t responsible for making improvements. He said it only takes one issue to cause the City problems. He would like city council to cover safety issue for that building before the end of the budget process.
Leinbach said the City has offered the building official/maintenance supervisor to meet with their people in cooperation to make sure the building is properly safe. The organization does get federal funding, so certain standards must be met. Rolfson is worried about exposure to the city for health and safety issues.
Girone mentioned that maybe the organization may need toys and the public should maybe contact them. Rolfson reiterated his concerns about safety – more important than fixing the playground.
Slaby said he looks at price and value. He thinks the city does a fantastic job with special events. He thinks the city should increase prices to special events organizers and that they will know when the price was raised high enough when they lose an event. He is fine with losing some events.
Rich asked about the city giving $10,000 dollars to the Donnelly Building. She questioned the validity of the choice and was fearful that other organizations like historic churches, the Mount Dora Golf Course, the Center for the Arts and others who are the ‘face of Mount Dora’ would now expect to be given money. Sheppard, the finance director agreed with her concerns and said Denny Wood had asked for the money.
Tillett argued for the saying that this business did not use any of the CRA grants made available in past years (she may not be aware that since they are not a business in the CRA district, they do not qualify for that funding). She says that the Masons are having a hard time caring for the building so she agrees they should be given the money – she provided a list of what they intended to do that.
She said the city benefits from the building so they should help them fix it.
Rolfson said that while Rich makes good points, the city already agreed to give them the money. He wants to see proof the work was done.
Rowlett said the building is the city’s icon and he has no problem giving them $10,000.
Slaby brought up going to the roll back millage rate.
Leinbach recommends the city not go to the rollback rate. He said that would only save homeowners less than $12 per year but it means quite a bit more to the city.
Crail agreed the timing is not right to go to the roll back rate.
Tillett said she thought money taken away from the splash park project ($650,000) would be used for the expensive “omnibus” public works building the city was looking to build in the future. Sheppard and the mayor explained to her that there never was money budgeted for the project, just a placeholder on a wish list.
Adjourned the meeting at approximately 8:40 p.m.
Melissa DeMarco, Editor (email@example.com)