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How the City Council Decides Which Event Fees to Waive

When planning to book a public venue in Austin, keep in mind the city is going to charge a bunch of fees, some are for permits, maintenance and cleanup. Organizers of large and well-attended gatherings have no problem paying those fees. But non-profits sponsoring smaller events sometimes ask the city to waive them.

This week, the city council will vote on five such waivers. With so many of these smaller events taking place, what happens when fees are waived?

In Austin, the vast majority of public events take place in parks. That’s why there’s an office at the Austin Parks and Recreation Department in charge of overseeing all events. Jason Mauer leads that office.

“We have over 100 special events that are held in the Austin Parks and Recreation System throughout the year,” Mauer said.

He also said most of the fees they collect go straight to the city’s general fund. But, a couple of fees benefit Parks and Rec directly. Mauer said damage deposits are in that category and what he called – the “dollar a day” fee from private events that charge admission “events like Austin City Limits Festival,” Mauer said “do remit one dollar per ticket per event day back to the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.”

This year ACL is expected to bring in twice as much money since the festival will be held over two weekends, twice as long than before.

Few events bring that kind of money.

This week, the city council will consider waiving the fees for the upcoming Bengali New Year’s Festival and for the Annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk, among several others.

And Austin Council members can do that because they each get six thousand dollars every year that they can use to off-set fees for specific events. City spokesman Kyle Carvell said “council members will use these funds to waive fees for a particular organization... putting on a parade or holding some type of other community-centric, cultural or family-friendly event.” Carvell said the use of those funds “is completely at [council members’] discretion.”

Since most of the money collected or not collected in fees is part of the city’s general fund; fees, or the lack of them, aren’t going to make or break a department’s budget.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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