Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 13, 2004

LP council works on city hall rental policy

By Jane Otto
Staff Writer

Fair is fair.

As simple as it sounds, the Lester Prairie City Council learned last Monday it isn’t.

It took an hour’s discussion with a dozen people representing various groups before city council members settled on what it deemed are fair city hall rental rates.

Some changes as of Jan. 1 will be that local groups who have an event on days other than their regularly scheduled meetings will be charged $20, and fund-raisers for local groups will be half the room rental rate.

“The bloodmobile – that’s one exception right away,” Mayor Eric Angvall said. “How do we treat everybody the same way?”

Last Monday’s meeting arose from the city clerk’s frustration with how much to charge whom for using the city hall rooms.

“It’s gotten a little ambiguous over time,” City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk said.

A lack of consistency, not lack of money is behind setting a policy, Pawelk said.

“It’s not that the city hall is running a deficit. It’s not that the city hall is broke. It’s just that you want some consistency,” she said. “You have some who want it for free. Why should they have it for free when the Lions pay?”

The current fee for the large back room is $100 for residents and $140 for nonresidents. The smaller room is $40 and $50 for residents and nonresidents respectively. The council room rents at $45 and $55.

The problem has been in making those fees stick, particularly for fund-raising events or various one-time special events.

A catastrophic situation, such as someone facing huge medical bills; Kids Against Hunger, a group that wants to use the hall for packaging food to be distributed to starving countries; or the music group that wants to play and welcome anyone to listen — how should they be handled? Pawelk asked council members.

“You need to put a policy in place and not deviate from it,” she said.

Angvall agreed.

“That’s what we’re trying to get away from – the judgement call,” he said. “Our desire is how do we all agree on something we can live with?” . . . We’re trying to set something so we don’t have to rationalize each time.”

Lester Prairie K-12 principal Pam Lukens saw a set fee as a problem for the Comprehensive Arts Planning Program committee. A CAPP member, Lukens said the group doesn’t hold its regular meetings at the city hall, but it wants to have some activities there.

“There’s just not a lot of places to meet in our town,” Lukens said. “I’m just thinking of CAPP. We just want to have a fun activity to invite the public to.”

Paying the $100 fee is something that the group couldn’t do, she added.

“What if the Lions make a contribution to cover everybody on this list?” Lions member Dale Klaustermeier asked.

“That’s not going to solve their dilemma,” Lions member Ralph Machemehl said.

One resident suggested paying a deposit to cover any costs when city staff have to clean up after meetings.

“You’re asking us to make a judgement call on how clean you are,” Angvall said.

Keeping the room clean hasn’t been a problem when Lester Prairie School uses it for testing, but Pawelk asked if the school should be charged to use the room.

Most agreed charging the school would be another cost spread through taxes to district residents.

“I don’t think you can write (the policy) broad enough or be inclusive enough,” School Superintendent Joe Miller said. “No matter how good a policy you write, you’re going to have 50 questions beyond that. You’re going to spend half your council meeting writing all your exceptions.”

After listening to the back-and-forth dialogue, Machemehl said, “You’re still better off taking the $1,000 from us than taking money from everybody else, listening to the juggling we’re doing here.”

Miller, also a Lions member, suggested the council set the fees and local organizations that can’t pay the fee, can ask the Lions for a donation.

With a laugh, he added, “We’ll get off a lot cheaper that way.”

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