CRESTVIEW — After traveling down what city attorney Jerry Miller has called a "slippery slope" of granting free use of city facilities to non-profit organizations, the City Council finally said "no."
Encouraged by the regular waiver of facilities fees for other non-profits, the Okaloosa County Farm Bureau requested fees be waived for its annual membership meeting and dinner at the Crestview Community Center.
Part of the statewide Florida Farm Bureau, the organization's mission is "to increase the net income of farmers and ranchers, and to improve the quality of rural life," according to its website.
The organization has previously paid as much as $670 to rent the community center for its annual dinner.
In recent months the council has waived fees for organizations including churches, Relay for Life and the NAACP for use of city facilities such as the Old Spanish Trail Park amphitheatre, Warriors Hall and the community center.
Under questioning by Councilman Shannon Hayes, Okaloosa Farm Bureau President Keith Free said the meeting and dinner were not open to the public.
While he said 95 percent of the attendees would be from Okaloosa County, Free could not say how many of the expected 300 attendees were Crestview residents.
"I'm trying to figure out what benefit (of granting free use of the facility) is to the 99 percent of Crestview who won't be attending the dinner," Hayes said.
When Councilman Joe Blocker asked Miller for advice, the attorney said granting fee waivers is done at the discretion of the council, which has set a precedent by granting previous waivers.
"You got yourselves in a quagmire and you can't escape," Miller said. "Until you draw a line in the sand you're going to keep having this problem and I can't fix it for you."
Councilman Tom Gordon, who has previously resisted providing free use of taxpayer-supported city facilities during a period of tight budgets, reiterated his stance.
"There are a lot of good organizations that are 501(c), but I have a hard time supporting something like this," Gordon said.
The council chose to take no action, allowing the Farm Bureau's request to die.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.