Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Board weighs fee for use of Town Hall

Rent would probably be no more than $50 per event

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Upper Marlboro’s board of commissioners is considering charging a fee to outside groups that hold meetings at Town Hall, they said at a recent work session.

The fee would be part of a usage policy aimed at making the building more readily available to the community while limiting the town’s liability during private meetings, board president Steve Sonnet said.

‘‘If we can make a couple bucks off it, we’ll do that too,” Sonnett added.

Officials will study the policies other towns have for renting out their facilities and discuss the idea with residents at February’s town hall meeting before they decide whether to draw up their own policy.

A formal agreement likely would set limits on occupancy and ban alcohol during events, for example, while the fee could be used to cover cleanup and any additional expenses the town might incur.

Officials have not come up with an amount to charge groups, but commissioner George Leonnig said it probably would not be more than $50 per meeting.

‘‘I don’t think we have a big enough room to charge more than that,” Leonnig said.

But a fee of any sort might drive off some groups that already use the facility, or are considering it.

‘‘It would probably make us start looking for someplace else. We just don’t have very much in the treasury,” said Robert Jacobs, the Upper Marlboro chapter president of National Active and Retired Federal Employees.

The group has been meeting in the Town Hall since September because it provided a free, convenient location for members, Jacobs said.

The group was initially interested in using the public library on Main Street in Upper Marlboro, but rejected the idea when members discovered it would cost $40 for events lasting one to four hours.

Jacobs’ group has about 700 members in the area, but meetings only draw about 15. Chapter dues are $5 a year, he said.

Barry Schlossberg, president of the Brookwood-Hollaway Civic Association, said his group meets for free at Rosaryville Elementary School, and probably would not meet at a venue for which they had to pay.

‘‘One of the reasons we use the schools is that they make their space available to nonprofits at no charge,” Schlossberg said.

Sonnett said any policy the town adopts would not extend a user fee to Upper Marlboro residents, only to groups that come from the surrounding area.

‘‘It’s your Town Hall, you use it,” he said.

Officials discussed the policy used by Berwyn Heights as one possible model during the Jan. 24 work session.

The town requires groups to fill out a two-page permit for reserving its town center. The center, which is considerably bigger than Upper Marlboro’s town hall and has a full kitchen, costs $175 for most uses and requires a deposit. The application has a list of 14 regulations applicants must sign and agree to follow.