A Stay of Execution, Not a Long-Term Solution
After more than two hours of public comment and debate on Tuesday, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors quashed staff’s recommendation to amend Section 3.40.010(V) of the Tuolumne County Ordinance Code by adding Facility Use Fees for Hall Rentals. Staff recommended charging $25 per hour for use of any of the county’s existing community halls and meeting rooms, as well as the two new Resilience Centers in Groveland and Tuolumne. Historically, usage fees have been waived for nonprofits and other community organizations who register their nonprofit status, pay a $50 deposit, and provide a certificate of insurance.
A highly-charged issue, Supervisors Haff, Kirk, and Brandon noted they had received an almost unprecedented number of calls and emails opposing the new fee structure. Representatives of local nonprofit and community groups, including Patti Beaulieu from Helping Hands and Rick Whybra on behalf of the Groveland Thanksgiving Dinner Committee, the League of Women Voters, Tuolumne County Arts Alliance, and the Tuolumne County Genealogical Society, attended the meeting in person. They each spoke out against the new policy, imploring the Board of Supervisors to exempt community organizations from paying usage fees.
Helping Hands, a registered 501(c)(3), has been serving the greater Groveland community for more than forty years. Store manager Patti Beaulieu said, “We use the Community Hall twice a year to give away hundreds of pounds of donated clothing. People take away huge garbage bags full of free clothing for their families. It takes several days to prepare for those giveaways. Asking Helping Hands to pay $2500 for these giveaways is taking $2500 away from our high school scholarships and other direct community support.”
Yosemite Chamber secretary Shirley Horn spoke on behalf of Highway 120’s nonprofit and business members, including numerous sole proprietors, artists, and craftsmen without brick-and-mortar retail establishments. “Events and fundraisers held at the Community Hall support programs that directly benefit our community and attract locals and visitors to downtown Groveland,” she said. She noted that our Community Hall is the only indoor public space available to these groups, enabling the Chamber to promote historical lectures, Bingo, holiday markets, and a range of other educational, social, and business-stimulating events.
Horn cited the Pine Cone Performers, a 501(c)(3) registered charity, managed entirely by volunteers, who have graced our community for decades with Spring and Winter concerts and appearances at events like the 49er Festival. At the current ticket price of $10, not only will it be a burden for the group to pay $25 an hour to hold one technical rehearsal and three concert performances at the new Resilience Center, but completely cost-prohibitive to continue to use the Community Hall for more than two months of weekly rehearsals leading up to the concerts. These costs are over and above what the Pine Cone Performers already pay for licensing the music and compensating the musical director and two accompanying musicians.
Supervisor Campbell noted that the issue of sustaining the county’s community meeting spaces has been on and off the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for many years. He implored Supervisors to make forward progress on this issue, as costs to maintain the eight existing buildings are rising and must be offset. Given that the vast majority of usage is by nonprofits and community-facing organizations, Supervisors Haff and Brandon pushed back on the trade-off of a small amount of revenue versus the tremendous value these nonprofits bring to our communities.
The Board of Supervisors agreed only to impose the proposed fee structure on private parties using the facilities and on the new Community Resilience Centers (CRC). The CRCs are obligated to demonstrate their ability to pay for themselves but have a higher revenue potential by attracting large out-of-area groups to rent the centers for events, corporate meetings, and retreats.
Given the age and state of the Community Hall and others like it, the Board of Supervisors’ decision is more of a stay of execution than a resolution. Maintaining and sustaining the Groveland Community Hall as a vital downtown space for our community will remain on the Yosemite | Highway 120 Chamber of Commerce’s agenda. Watch for updates on possible long-term solutions for retaining the Community Hall as an affordable downtown meeting space. And by all means, send us your ideas.
You can view the entire hearing courtesy of Access Tuolumne here. The Community Hall hearing begins at approximately 3:45:36.