Future of Tallahassee Veterans Day Parade in Peril

Non-profit organizers are upset over a new fee implemented by the City of Tallahassee.
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 2:39 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The future of the popular Tallahassee Veterans Day Parade hangs in the balance after the non-profit that organizes it was charged several thousand dollars by the City of Tallahassee.

Joe West, a notable name in the Tallahassee Veterans community, is speaking out after he says Veteran Events Tally, Inc. (VET), the volunteer-run organization founded in 2010 to plan the parade, recently received a bill from the city.

“We would like to see them say, ‘No, we’re not going to do this. Nor will we do it in the future,’” West told WCTV reporter Mike Rogers.

An invoice with a COT letterhead that West provided showed the city incurred roughly $20,000 in fees to help with the parade, including trash cans, safety barricades, electricity, and city police officers. The statement shows the city is charging the non-profit for 16-percent of the bill, a total of $3,245.11.

While the total may not seem like a lot to the ‘average Joe,’ West said it is a large expense for the volunteer-based organization that spends hundreds of hours planning the parade and which was established in 2010 to take the burden off the hands of civic leaders. Noone at VET draws any compensation for their effort, said West.

West stated he approached city commissioners this past Summer and requested the city match the funds that Leon County contributes annually toward the parade. West said he was directed to apply for a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) grant, which VET did. The organization was approved and received $5,000. However, the unexpected invoice eats up roughly 65-percent of those grant funds.

West believes both the city and the county benefit from the parade by drawing thousands of spectators to the downtown area, who then frequent local restaurants, shops, and businesses. It is a belief echoed in the first line of the city’s Policy on Special Events. Organizers have previously estimated that roughly 22,000 people turn out every year to watch the procession and take part in the accompanying ‘Vet Fest’ along Park Avenue.

This is the first year West said organizers received a bill, but if such a charge continues then he will no longer work to coordinate the event and will dissolve the non-profit created to run it.

“If they just want to rescind this year, but it’s going to be policy after, then no- we’ll let them do it,” West said.

West said contacted the city after receiving the bill, but was not provided an explanation as to why the 16-percent charge was added this year without notification.

West said he was told by a city employee that the Springtime Tallahassee Festival would also be incurring a 16-percent charge this year. However, the annual Winter Festival would not since it is a city-sponsored event.

West addressed city commissioners during the public comment portion of the commission meeting on Wednesday night. However, the commissioners did not immediately address his concerns.

A city spokesperson did not immediately respond to WCTV’s request for comment on Thursday. However, after this story was published online, public information officer Alison Ferris passed along an internal email, which states:

“The Special Events Committee presented their recommendations for co-sponsored events for FY 2023-24 and the level of in-kind services that should be provided for each event at the July 13, 2022 City Commission meeting. The committee was instructed that their recommendation could not exceed the total amount of in-kind services provided to co-sponsored events in the FY 22 budget. As explained in the agenda item and during the presentation at the meeting, that level of funding only covered 84% of the projected costs for city services for the 12 events recommended by the committee to be co-sponsored events, so the committee recommended that each of these events receive 84% of the costs of City services provided in-kind. The City Commission approved this recommendation, and voted to also designate the DIA New Year’s Eve event, which had not been included by the committee, as a co-sponsored event. Further, they voted to provide 100% of the cost of City services provided in-kind for all of the DIA co-sponsored events.

On July 7th, Parks and Recreation staff notified applicants, including Joe West, about the committee’s recommendation. This notification (attached) specified the events recommended to be designated as co-sponsored events with 84% of City services provided in-kind during the two-year term of Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024.

Parks and Recreation staff met with Mr. West on October 4th to discuss logistics for the Veteran’s Day Parade and Festival. During this meeting, they provided a cost estimate and discussed the fact that the event would be required to pay 16% of the cost of City services provided in-kind. Mr. West followed up with an email (attached) on October 24th requesting a copy of “the invoice for what COT is billing us for the Parade”, which was provided to him the following day.

The 13 events designated by the City Commission as co-sponsored events for FY23-24 are:

-Cool Breeze Art & Jazz Festival

-DIA New Year’s Eve Event

-DIA Sundown Concerts (7 concerts)

-Experience Asia

-Filipino Festival

-Frenchtown Risings (6 events)

-KidsFest

-Lemoyne Art Festival

-Southern Shakespeare

-Springtime Tallahassee

-Tallahassee Pridefest

-Veteran’s Day Parade & Vet Fest

Please let me know if I can provide any further information. Thank you.”

Ashley C. Edwards, Director City of Tallahassee Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Affairs Department

The email included a link to the July 13 agenda item and a late October email chain in which West is notified of the 16-percent charge. The agenda states the Special Events Committee made the recommendation after reviewing the fiscal budget for FY 2023-24 and being instructed that their recommendation could not exceed the total amount of in-kind services provided to co-sponsored events in the FY 22 budget. As a result, the budget could only cover 84-percent of in-kind services for twelve events. Therefore, organizers of the event would be on the hook for 16-percent of the bill.

A previous version of this story stated organizers were not given a heads-up about the bill. It has been amended to reflect the new information. West also clarified he was notified roughly two weeks before the Veterans Day Parade that the new fee would be implemented.