Reynoldsburg Mayor Brad McCloud essentially overturned a proposed ordinance that was up for a first reading Monday, June 24, that would have provided money to pay for electrical expenses at this year's Tomato Festival but would have required the festival committee to reimburse the city.
"Because this figure of money is under $10,000, I am authorized to expend that amount, so the ordinance is no longer necessary," McCloud said.
The ordinance to appropriate $9,750 for electrical support at the festival as an "expenditure subject to reimbursement," was set for a first reading and recommendation to pass as emergency legislation at the Reynoldsburg City Council meeting.
Instead, it was held and referred back to the community development committee after McCloud said he was exercising his authority to spend that amount without council confirmation.
Council President Doug Joseph said the ordinance would have been sent back to the committee anyway, since three council members were absent -- Scott Barrett, Mel Clemens and Barth Cotner. Joseph said any ordinance scheduled to pass as emergency legislation requires five votes.
McCloud had first brought the festival's electrical dilemma to council June 3. He said parking would no longer be free at the annual event if Tomato Festival directors had to pay nearly $10,000 for extra electrical support at Huber Park. He suggested the city support this year's festival by paying for the electricity.
Most council members were opposed at that time to giving money outright to a private committee, unless an ordinance were approved that required reimbursement of the funds.
The reimbursement question caused a contentious discussion during the community development committee meeting June 17, where Greta Stake, a Tomato Festival director and executive chairman of the Reynoldsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said the festival cleared only $634 last year.
"If you loan us $9,700, how do we pay it back?" she asked. "That is not possible."
Parks and Recreation Department Director Joe Brown proposed the city pay to install a permanent electrical distribution center at Huber Park, which would nullify the need for electrical generators and a power source. He said the cost for such a system has not been determined yet, but it could be in place by next year's Tomato Festival.
Clemens, Monica DeBrock and Chris Long voted to create an ordinance to appropriate the funds as "an expenditure subject to reimbursement," while the other council members, Cotner, Barrett and Cornelius McGrady III, voted against it.
With Councilwoman Leslie Kelly absent during the June 17 committee meeting, Joseph broke the tie by voting to have the legislation requiring reimbursement prepared for a full council vote.
DeBrock said giving money to a private organization would open the city to other private organizations asking for support.
McCloud said he had discussed the amount of money needed for the Tomato Festival electricity expenses with City Auditor Richard Harris.
"Dick said that an ordinance requiring reimbursement is not really enforceable," McCloud said. "The city can't lend money. Dick pointed out that I could approve that amount from already-appropriated funds and accounts.
"I don't like the idea of charging to park at the festival," he said. "People should be able to come to the Tomato Festival without getting out their wallets."
McCloud said he also considered the decision a safety issue.
"If parking is not free, then people will try to park on both sides of the streets and make it difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate those streets," he said. "We will be looking at making electrical improvements at Huber for next year, so electrical support will not be an issue for next year's festival."
Council committee meetings are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. July 1 at the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building, 7232 E. Main St.