EXETER — After a months-long process, the Select Board approved a new fee schedule for all town-owned facilities Monday night.
The new fee structure distinguishes between both Exeter based for-profit and non-profit entities, and also between both out of town non-profits and for-profit organizations.
Exeter non-profits are afforded the best rates to lease all town facilities. Venues such as the Town Hall auditorium or second-floor art gallery now cost $75 for Exeter non-profits, $125 for out of town non-profits, $250 for Exeter for-profit businesses and $500 for out of town for-profits.
Other facilities have a similarly staggered fee structure starting as low as $10 to rent a venue like the senior center or $25 for the art gallery’s back room, for an Exeter non-profit. All applications are also subject to a $30 per hour custodial fee if necessary, which is built in as an up-front deposit.
For non-profits to book a facility for an event lasting more than three consecutive days, they will be assessed a $200 flat rate. Political events or other events requiring a large police presence seeking to rent a venue, such as the Town Hall, would be assessed a $1,500 fee per event.
Select Board member Anne Surman said she believed the new structure sent the wrong message to non-profits in distinguishing between an Exeter-based organization and a non-Exeter organization.
“The non-profits, whether they’re Exeter-based or not, should be the same fee,” Surman said.
The new fee structure was passed by a 3-2 vote with Chairwoman Julie Gilman, Molly Cowan and Kathy Corson voting in favor, with Don Clement and Surman opposed.
“We need to be mindful and protective of our town and ensure that these wonderful facilities we have are maintained well and can be improved upon,” Cowan said.
As part of new structure’s approval, the board decided all applications received beginning Tuesday would have the new fee assessments as part of the application.
However, prior to arriving at that decision, the board engaged in a spirited discussion regarding how to assess the new fees on applicants who have had their event approved already for 2019 as board members’ intent was to have the structure in place by the start of the year.
Corson asked fellow board members where the town should “draw the line” as permit applications have come in for events scheduled as late as December.
“That means we’re going to talk about this for seven meetings and then we’re going to put this into place January 1, 2020? That doesn’t make sense,” Corson said. “We have said this time and again in public meetings that this was going to happen.”
Though a majority of the board thought it would be a bad-faith endeavor on the part of the town to retroactively pursue permit fees from individuals and organizations that have already been approved to lease space in 2019.
“We discuss a lot of topics and we say a lot of things here but we did not set an effective date for this. It doesn’t matter to me how many times we talk about something in public; until we make a motion and until there’s an effective date (the fee structure wouldn’t apply),” Surman said. “These are basically contracts. You can’t change the terms of a contract without both parties agreeing. It’s just bad form and bad PR.”