City to explore new waiver process for festivals in Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin is known for having a different event in town every weekend. Many of those events have some type of city fees waived for having their festival in Austin.

City Council approved a resolution Thursday directing the city manager to explore sources of alternative funding for special events and to create a fee waiver process for large-scale events.

The idea behind providing fee waivers for events is foreseeing the potential economic impact a large scale event like South by Southwest can do for the city.

When it comes to small scale events like the Girls Scouts using a park the $100 fee waiver is considered a non-issue.

Council member Kathie Tovo is proposing city staff examine a way to fund fee waivers for festivals requesting more than $60,000 so that money is not taken from the city’s general budget.

During SXSW this year the city waived fees for things like park use, litter cleanup, and parking spaces for a total cost of just over $274,000. The city also covered the cost for city services like police, trash, fire, and barricades that came to $481,000. That’s a grand total of just over $755,000 waived.

In fact, the city’s finance department found that between 2009 and 2013, $3.4 million in fee waivers were issued to various festivals, half of that funding went to SXSW.

During that time frame the city also spent $24 million on expenses but only collected about half of that in revenue.

That’s why Tovo wants city staff to examine the benefit verses the cost to the city.

The item isn’t to eliminate fee waivers, since that is an attractive component for festival organizers, but create a different source to fund the waivers instead of the general budget.

“What I’m proposing is we treat those large scale events as an economic incentive proposal and look really carefully at the financial benefit that the city gets from supporting those,” Tovo said.

Currently each city council office receives an allowance of $6,000 for events like Marathon Kids and the Violet Crown Festival – that will likely not change. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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