Pendleton raises its flag for the Fourth

A VFW color guard marches underneath a large United States flag at the start of the Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018, in Pendleton.

Pendleton parades are free to attend, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a cost.

Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said that a parade during Round-Up week requires 15 officers at a minimum to close down streets and provide security. Factor in staffing and overtime costs, and Roberts said it can cost $6,000 to $8,000 to cover.

In an attempt to recover some of those costs, the Pendleton City Council is considering amending the city’s parade ordinance to include a $1,500 fee.

The council held a first reading of the amended ordinance at a Tuesday meeting, but took no action.

Roberts said he originally got involved with amendment discussions over his desire to streamline the process on parade permits.

Although people applying for permits are supposed to submit them to the police chief 15 days before the parade, Roberts said he sometimes gets applications only a few days before the event is supposed to start.

In discussions with other city officials, the $1,500 fee was eventually added in to recover public safety costs.

Although that could be a significant amount of money for some parade organizers, Roberts said it only applies to a narrow band of public events — moving events that require extended street closures.

Public marches or fun runs that mainly use sidewalks wouldn’t need to apply for a parade permit or pay the fee. “Rolling events” like funeral processions or bike rides wouldn’t see any changes to their organization process.

And Pendleton’s biggest and most well-established parades — Westward Ho!, Dress-Up, Fourth of July, and the Little League Team parades — would be exempted from the fee.

Outside of the exempted parades, Roberts said it’s difficult to quantify how many parades the city permits per year because they’re more sporadic.

At the council meeting Tuesday, Councilor Scott Fairley questioned why the city would exempt four parades if they’re expensive to cover.

In an interview Wednesday, Fairley elaborated on his comments, saying he wants to have a discussion with the council on how to recover public safety costs. Since the police department relies on the general fund for most of its budget, Fairley said a cost recovery mechanism for public safety could allow the city to use its only discretionary fund for other budget priorities.

Although the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 922-organized Fourth of July Parade is currently exempted under the amendment proposal, a $1,500 fee would have an effect on parade organizers.

A former Pendleton police chief, VFW Commander Gary Ward said he understands the costs that go into covering parades.

But requiring a $1,500 fee means the VFW would have to consider how to spread their additional costs amongst their members and sponsors.

Roberts said he doesn’t have an opinion on who should or shouldn’t be exempted from the fee, but he said a lot goes into organizing public safety for a parade, which can sometimes include coordinating with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

While the council usually votes on an ordinance at the meeting following a first reading, Mayor John Turner told City Manager Robb Corbett that the council needed more time “to talk about it some more” and suggested a final vote be postponed further.

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