WILLMAR -- The City Council has denied a request to allow free use of the city's portable Showmobile band shell for a weekend fundraiser.
But organizers of a dance to benefit the Willmar High School music program will probably get free use of the Showmobile anyway if council members voluntarily donate enough money out of their own pockets to cover the cost.
The council voted 4-3 Monday night to deny a request from Music Matters to waive the fee for use of the Showmobile at this coming Saturday night's Hangar Dance at the Municipal Airport. The request to waive the fee was first discussed last week by the council's Finance Committee, which voted to recommend the fee not be waived.
During the committee discussion, Greg Anderson, lead Music Matters volunteer, said that if the fee expense could be eliminated, that much more could be donated to the music department. Officials estimated the fee for daily rental and cost of hiring Public Works employees to set up and take down at about $600.
The request to waive the fee was repeated Monday night by high school band teacher Terry Brau. During the open forum, Brau said the music department has had two full-time cuts in the last two years. "You know what state funding has been like recently,'' he said, alluding to recent state aid cuts to cities.
Brau said Music Matters was trying to raise money to restore some of the curriculum cuts.
The group has support from businesses and is planning a 1940s-style hangar dance with band music, hoping to attract 500 people.
He said the school tries to teach life lessons to students and encourages volunteerism. As an asset to the city, the band participates in parades and at the local Memorial Day program, he explained.
Council member Bruce DeBlieck said the council has waived fees for various organizations in the past, and said he didn't see a reason why the council would not either waive the fee or make a contribution to the group.
Committee Chairman Denis Anderson said the committee discussed waiving the fee. According to information provided by city staff, the city hasn't waived Showmobile fees for the last three to four years.
"About the time we stopped waiving the fees for building permits and so on, we got fairly consistent on not waiving fees for many things,'' he said.
Council member Ron Christianson spoke against the motion to deny the request of respect for the band's participation in community events. He said city policy is "more or less a guideline'' and is not law. He said waiving the fee won't break the city, and suggested the city reduce lobbying costs and membership fees in state groups representing cities.
"I may be biased, but I like music,'' he said. "But they need our help. This is a small way to help them. If nothing else, I suggest council members give up part of our salaries to pay for it.''
City Administrator Michael Schmit said everyone loves music and appreciates what the music program does for the community, but he said the money raised would go toward retaining one or two music instructors while he was talking to the council about filling a police officer position.
"That was kind of the one issue that led me to recommend what I did,'' Schmit said, which was to deny the request.
Anderson said the council will be looking at budget cuts in 2010 and 2011, and other groups will be coming forward when reductions are made.
"It's not going to be easy or fun, but I think we need to move forward and still think even though it's a hard thing to do, it's the right thing to do to deny this,'' he said.
Council members voting to deny the request were Anderson, Steve Ahmann, Jim Dokken and Rick Fagerlie.
Voting against were Christianson, DeBlieck and Tim Johnson.
Later, Fagerlie offered a motion to encourage council members to donate about $70 each toward the Showmobile fee. He said a citizen, John Sullivan, also offered to donate.
Anderson asked if the motion was binding.
"I'm afraid we're going to be faced with a lot of these decisions and are we going to make up the difference for everybody that we turn down? It's a little bit scary to me,'' he said.
City Attorney Rich Ronning said the motion had no legal significance.
But it was unanimously approved.