City explores ways to fund fee waivers

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Every year the city of Austin spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on waiving fees for organizers who bring festivals and events to the city. It’s an effort to maintain events like South by Southwest that generates nearly $1 billion in revenue for the city. But Wednesday city leaders will look for new ways to fund those waived fees.

Right now those “fee waivers” are issued through the city’s general revenue fund. But last year Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo proposed the city explore a different source to fund those waivers. That’s because the city’s finance department found between 2009 and 2013 $3.4 million in fee waivers were issued to various festivals; half of that funding went to SXSW. This year alone SXSW is slated to receive $309,310 in fee waivers.  Council has asked city staff to explore other options for paying for these costs, such as the feasibility of using Hotel Occupancy Tax funds or setting up a special event fund, and create a mechanism or matrix to evaluate fee waiver requests for all special events to ensure fairness and equity in the process

During a previous public meeting some suggestions included allowing a board to decide who receives fee waivers instead of council, keeping the fee waivers slated to the department that provides the service. For example, if the transportation department provides waivers for parking the funds come from their budget. And many are supporting more help for non-profits.

“We’re just looking at what other cities are doing, what Austin can do, and how are these events funded, does it continue to be funded the same way through the general fund or are there other creative ways to reduce the burden on the general fund,” said Bill Manno, Special Events Program Manager.

Right now the city has 14 events every year they co-sponsor by providing those waivers and each council member has $6,000 they can use to help smaller events. Based on the feedback a proposal will be presented to city council in the next few months

A public meeting will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Asian American Resource Center on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

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