| 2 min read | by Sean Dalton, |

Every once in a while, a local volunteer group that puts on a nice, place-making event somewhere in Washtenaw County steps in a longstanding question that often divides local pols.

Do you charge said group for the use of municipal-owned, tax-payer maintained facilities for free, because they’re putting on a free event for the community that arguably is a building block of the said community? Or do you hold them responsible for the costs of the facility so as to not burden the taxpayer? If so, to what extent do you hold the group responsible?

These are questions that the Chelsea City Council lightly touched upon this week in deliberating on the Chelsea Festival and Events (CAFE) request for use of Palmer Commons from June 4 until August 13 each Thursday for Sounds & Sights.


CAFE’s application for the use of Palmer Commons included an ask of the city that the facility be provided for Sounds & Sights, “as (CAFE is) providing a free event for the community.”

Last year the city charged CAFE a fee of $35 per evening for a total of $385 for the 11 weeks that Sounds & Sights is held, according to City Manager John Hanifan.

Hanifan added that there was quite a bit of discussion on council when the Palmer Commons rental policy was drafted in 2018. As far as advising the council on his recommendation for action, he said that there’s only a year of history behind enforcing the rental policy and stopped short of summarizing the agreement between the city and CAFE from the previous year.

The $35 per evening fee only covers the cleaning of the restrooms by a janitorial contractor and is considered the bare minimum cost that could be ascertained during the discussion of the rental policy in 2018, according to City Councilmember Jane Pacheco, who led the way in probing the matter during the discussion.

“At the time, we had that conversation a number of times last year, we had said that hopefully we would come back to that after a year of use and reconcile what the actual expenses are,” Pacheco said. She added that she would like to dig deeper into other costs such as utilities, Department of Public Works employees, police service, and other staffing costs that may be incurred when events at held at Palmer Commons for a more realistic cost figure.

Hanifan pointed out that the maintenance of Palmer Commons is within the Chelsea Downtown Development Authority’s budget, rather than the city’s. 

Pacheco inquired about how much money if any the DDA donates to CAFE and Sounds & Sights, to which Mayor Melissa Johnson answered that she recalled a $6,500 contribution.

The DDA’s line item for maintaining Palmer Commons totals $15,000 in their most recent budget, according to Hanifan, who also added that those contribution levels have been decreasing over the past few years.

Having determined that there are other significant contributions to CAFE and Sounds & Sights Festival, the council moved to approve the request with the $35 per evening fee intact. 

Pacheco said she would like to revisit the matter during future discussions to complete the work that was started with the creation of the Palmer Commons rental policy in 2018.

“For the time being I would be hesitant to break from our precedent of at a minimum covering our cleaning fee in terms of a minimum rental fee,” she added.

Johnson supported Pacheco’s position, adding that she considers the DDA responsible for any excess cleaning and maintenance costs that might be incurred by the event should the $385 fail to cover Sounds & Sights for the season.

Councilmember Cheri Albertson made the motion to approve the application with the fee intact, with support from Pacheco. 

The motion passed with all but Charles Wiseley, who also serves on the DDA, voting to pass the motion.

CAFE will be expected to provide a certificate of insurance for the Sounds & Sights Festival before June 4 for their application to be valid.