HITCHCOCK — Some Hitchcock residents are concerned that a proposed ordinance governing large events might drive off festivals and discourage new visitors.
The City Commission is considering a “mass gathering” ordinance. Commission members were given a sample ordinance that would require any event that attracts at least 300 people to apply for a permit that could cost as much as $10,000.
The ordinance would apply to any crowd of more than 150 if most of those attending are expected to be younger than 21 and if alcohol is being served.
The proposed ordinance and the potential price tag associated with it have some festival organizers and residents concerned.
But Mayor Anthony Matranga said the ordinance language, which he said comes from a 1981 Santa Fe ordinance, was just meant to be an example — something to help the commission as it drafts its own language.
He said he would meet with the city attorney to go over the proposed ordinance, and then a workshop will be called in the coming weeks.
He said the sample ordinance, including the price of the permit, was just a starting point. He also said that many traditional events could be exempted.
“We are trying to get something in the city so we can have some kind of control of what’s coming into the city,” Matranga said.
While other cities in the county have ordinances and permitting processes for large events, Hitchcock does not, he said.
But Commissioner Lee Sander called the proposed ordinance “ridiculous” and said it would affect everything from the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo to the Good Ole Days Celebration organized by the Hitchcock Chamber of Commerce, as well as Little League parades, church events and benefits and barbecue fundraisers.
“They are hanging this on health and safety,” Sander said.
Sander said that Matranga and Police Chief Clay Kennelly were trying to exert more control over the Fair and Rodeo committee, which contracts with the county to use Jack Brooks Park on state Highway 6.
Both Matranga and Kennelly said Sander’s accusations were untrue.
Matranga said he would propose to exempt the County Fair and Rodeo as well as the Good Ole Days Celebration, church events, the VFW and sporting events such as the Little League.
But event organizers are still worried.
“It would hurt,” said Paul Tibaldo, president of the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo, speaking of a potentially hefty fee for a permit.
The money raised by the fair and rodeo association goes toward scholarships and improvements to the fairgrounds, Tibaldo said.
Willie Windham, co-chair of the Good Ole Days Celebration, agreed a big permit fee would be a problem.
“That would break us and that would shut us down,” she said.
The celebration, which is in its 43rd year, brings in nearly 20,000 people, more than twice the population of Hitchcock, every year, she said. Proceeds go to organizations in town and keep the chamber running, she said.
While she said she’s heard from the mayor that the celebration would be exempt, that exemption is not in the sample ordinance.
The ordinance could have a negative effect on all kinds of events, said Sam Collins, owner of Stringfellow Orchard.
Stringfellow Orchard is a venue for historical re-enactments, weddings and reunions. Collins said a smaller fee would make more sense, but as it is now the proposed ordinance would hurt.
“This sends a message that we don’t want you in our town,” Collins said. “It is a barrier to tourism.”
Matranga said he is not trying to run anybody off or prevent anyone from having an event. The city simply does not have an ordinance that deals with large events, which means the city has no control over them, he said.
Kennelly said a mass gathering ordinance, which most other cities have, would give the city a way to regulate large events. It would allow the city to make sure organizers have proper parking, insurance, fire escapes and security, Kennelly said.
“Municipal entities have events all the time,” Kennelly said. “This is a mechanism to ensure that anybody who is proposing to have an event goes through the proper process so that the government can regulate or oversee the event.”