Chilmark offers some of the lowest rates on the Island for community events. But local groups ranging from the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society to the Rotary Club could soon find themselves needing to hold their events elsewhere.
Earlier this year, a study committee was formed to develop recommendations for how to handle the use of town-owned spaces, which include the Chilmark Community Center and the Chilmark School. The committee members are James Malkin, Jane Slater and Andy Golden.
Current policies require a $200 fee for parties and rehearsal dinners, $400 for weddings, and $50 for children’s parties. But requests are often handled on a case-by-case basis by the selectmen, and in many cases the fee is waived entirely.
The committee presented its results to the selectmen on Tuesday, recommending, among other things, that all groups planning to charge admission pay a $500 minimum fee, plus 20 per cent of admission sales, including those made by donation.
It recommended that all applicants be sponsored by a town resident who would need to attend the event and also provide a damage deposit.
A wide range of community groups and nonprofits, including Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard, Island preschools and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, use the town-owned spaces throughout the year.
Committee chairman James Malkin said one of the goals was to eliminate the possibility of bias on the part of selectmen by developing “a codified set of rules that apply across the board equally and fairly.”
He added that Chilmark’s fees for community spaces are among the lowest on the Island. “We need to not be the cheapest venue on the Island for events,” he said.
The committee sought to ensure that the fees for using the town’s buildings would benefit the town and its taxpayers, and be adequate to maintain the facilities. It also wanted to ensure that the uses of town-owned spaces were “consistent with Chilmark values and character,” according to the committee’s report.
Brian Ditchfield, managing director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, which has shown films at the Community Center every summer since 2002, said the new policy would be a major burden.
“That fee structure of $500, and especially the 20 per cent, really strikes me as cost-prohibitive for our use,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “And we may be the biggest nonprofit that has events there, so I can’t imagine what that strain would put on other nonprofits. “I’m wondering what we see as the mission of the community center,” he said. “Is it to be a community gathering space for these events, or is it to make money? And if it is to make money, then I think there is a different discussion to be had.”
Committee member Andy Golden drew attention to the fact that in the past, the film festival has charged extra for parking and for access to couches. He said the committee’s opinion had agreed that those practices do not exemplify Chilmark values. The committee’s report also recommends against such “differential charging.”
Mr. Ditchfield countered that the film festival has “put incredible amounts of dollars,” into the community center, contributing a new movie screen and a ventilation system, and has shared the cost of chairs.
Mr. Malkin appreciated the festival’s contributions, but defended the 20 per cent fee as a way to ensure that the town can continue supporting the larger groups. “The more people you have, the more tickets you sell, the more donations you accept, the more stress there is on the facility,” he said.
Selectman William Rossi said the issue had less to do with making money than with balancing revenue with the cost of operations. He agreed with the idea of a percentage fee, but added, “I think it’s up to us to figure out how to kind of organize that.”
Compared to other event spaces on the Island, he said, “It’s still a great deal.”
Selectman Warren Doty supported the idea of a stricter policy, but worried about how it might affect the Island groups that charge admission but do not expect to make a profit. He believed some flexibility in those cases would be necessary. He added that working with the largest users would also require “some individual negotiation.”
The selectmen delayed their vote on the committee’s recommendation to allow for further discussion.