Council votes 5-3 to reimburse park rental fees to Hensel

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

The Council voted 5-3 Monday, to reimburse park rental fees to Robin Hensel.

In June 2012, Hensel rented Le Bourget Park and Maple Island Park, for a Peace and Diversity Fair held by the Little Falls Partners for Peace.

She paid the going rate for rental of the parks, for a total of just more than $160.

In September 2012, Hensel asked that the city reimburse that rental fee, because it had let other non-profit groups use the parks at no cost.

Although Hensel and the Little Falls Partners for Peace do not have a 501(c)3 designation, at the time Hensel told the Council this was as much a nonprofit as groups “such as the Kiwanis.”

“I am a nonprofit,” she said. “I just don’t have the money to be an organized group under the state.”

The Council referred the request to the Park, Recreation and Tree Board. That Board recommended the fee be reimbursed.

A vote to reimburse was not taken at the Dec. 17, 2012 Council meeting when it was brought up. Council Member Loren Boyum asked to postpone the vote, because the Council had not discussed the Park Board’s recommendation.

Monday, Boyum asked during the Council’s work session how reimbursing the fee to Hensel would set a precedent for other groups. “How many will we need to reimburse?” he asked.

Public Works Director Jerry Lochner said staff had never made a distinction between nonprofit or not-for-profit, but suggested setting a policy for the future, “And treat everyone the same, across the board,” he said.

Lochner said the city had a facilities use form that could be expanded upon and that the city’s policy had inconsistencies that needed to be corrected.

City Administrator Dan Vogt said Brainerd’s park use form includes the 501(c)3 requirement for use of a park at no fee, but Brainerd had a church that paid for use of a park.

The Council questioned whether a wedding party should have to pay, or a group having a get-together, and whether such groups would be required to, or could even get, insurance.

Vogt said he would contact the League of Minnesota Cities about the insurance issue.

“So anyone who wishes a refund, all they have to do is apply?” Boyum asked. He quoted the saying, “If you have to make an exception to the rule, something is wrong with the rule.”

Boyum said his personal feeling was that a community park should be free to the community to use.

Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem pointed out that the $75 fee (plus tax) paid for anything broken, or to pay staff if a mess was left to clean up.

The Council’s 5-3 vote included Council Members Don Klinker, Greg Zylka, Frank Gosiak, Jeremy Hanfler and Brian-Paul Crowder voting yes. Council Member Lee Ann Doucette, VanRisseghem and Boyum voted no.

Boyum said he felt it was too early to begin refunding and that a vote should wait until a policy was in place.