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Weirton ordinance raises some issues

It is understandable that Weirton officials want to establish procedures to cover use of public spaces and facilities in the city.

What is not understandable is why an ordinance that would detail those requirements needs to be so restrictive and cumbersome.

The proposal, which received its first reading during Tuesday’s meeting of City Council, would include provisions to regulate and permit special events and parades. It is an effort, as Assistant City Manager DeeAnn Pulliam said in an e-mail to The Weirton Daily Times, to “streamline the process of the organization of parades and special events within the city.”

While that is a good goal, it appears that the ordinance will do everything but make the process easier.

It would require those who want to hold a parade or other event to apply 60 days in advance and include a $25 fee that is nonrefundable. If an application is approved, event organizers could be assessed fees for the use of city personnel, including $38 per hour for a police officer; $30 per hour for each firefighter and $150 per hour for firefighting apparatus or medic units; $25 per hour for a laborer from the public works department; and between $75 and $150 per hour for equipment.

There are some exceptions — funeral processions, students going to or from class and recreation activities which don’t require the closure of public streets, for instance. And the fees would not apply to city-funded or co-funded events.

The ordinance also would allow an exception for spontaneous public events. That’s a loophole which could come back to bite city officials by creating a situation where members of a group could decide to gather and hold an event in a specific area on their own — and thus bypass the permitting process.

As presented, the ordinance would make it harder for groups and organizations to hold community-oriented events. The length of time required between the application and date of the event is too long, for example, and the costs associated with the process could make holding such events too expensive for most groups and organizations. It could push even large-scale events designed to attract people to the city, such as the annual Christmas parade, beyond financial feasibility.

Establishing procedures that will allow special events and parades to be held in the city is important — such a process would ensure gatherings remain orderly, public safety is not compromised and reasonable costs associated with the presentations are covered.

The ordinance presented Tuesday does not seem to be the best way to achieve those goals, and city officials would do well to rethink their positions before it takes effect.

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