CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The City of Charleston has been shelling out thousands of dollars over the past few years to host groups that hold walks and runs around town. City council is scheduled to vote Monday night whether to adopt a new ordinance that would require those groups to shell out some money.
Deputy Mayor Rod Blackstone says in 2013 the city absorbed more than $41,000 in overtime pay for police officers and first responders during a handful of events, most of them for non-profits.
With an increasingly tight budget, Blackstone stressed the city can’t afford to offer those services for free. That’s why a committee was formed several months ago to look at options.
“Unfortunately we’re facing some fiscal realities in the city of Charleston. We’ve just taken a look at what can we do to try and start getting a handle on those costs,” said Blackstone.
Up for passage is a proposal that would set a fee for groups that want to use city property and streets for run/walk events.
There was talk late last week of an effort to take the proposed ordinance off the agenda for more discussion but as of now it’s still on for Monday night.
Blackstone stressed they haven’t set any numbers in stone.
“We want to encourage people to be active. We want to encourage people to get out and walk and run. And we want to encourage groups to spend time in Charleston,” according to the deputy mayor. “But unfortunately free is not free.”
One group that’s been very vocal against the change is the West Virginia Susan G. Koman Run for the Cure. The 5-K run/walk raises money to fight breast cancer. Their annual event is set for May 3.
In an email, written to Koman supporters, organizers, of the race, said they would consider moving the event to another city, if Charleston passed an ordinance making them cough up a fee.
“It would be such a shame to have to move a statewide event that serves the state away from the Capitol of the state and our beloved boulevard. It would be even worse to see funding for breast cancer screening, treatment and research traded for city fees to cover losses that have nothing to do with nonprofit events that bring revenue to the city,” read the email.
Blackstone explained it costs about $2,000 to shut down Kanawha Blvd. for an event. The committee considering the ordinance initially proposed a flat fee and then a $1 per person charge for taking part in an event. Mayor Danny Jones told Blackstone he’s doesn’t like the $1 per person fee. That could be scrubbed when the ordinance is introduced Monday evening.
Blackstone admitted the ordinance is the first attempt at coming up with a solution.
“This isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction. People have been thinking about it and talking about it,” he said. “Does that mean it’s the right answer, everything that’s been proposed so far? No, but it’s an ongoing process and we’re going to learn from it and we’re going to try and come up with what’s the best answer to what’s being fiscally responsible and keeping our arms wide open for people to come to Charleston.”
Currently for-profit events like Color Vibe, Biggest Loser and Dirty Girl Mud Run all pay a fee to the city to cover the cost of their run/walk.
58WCHS reached out to the Susan G. Koman Foundation for comment. They did not return our call.