County nickel-and-diming schools, other nonprofits

By Mike Anthony

Can St. Louis County, under County Executive Charlie Dooley’s leadership, be so cash-strapped that it’s charging fees to schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations for special events?

Apparently, the county’s goal is to nickel-and-dime such groups.

Lindbergh Schools administrators and parents, along with a pastor, asked the county Planning Commission during a public hearing last week to recommend changing a 1965 ordinance that requires schools and churches to pay the county more than $100 in permits and fees for any special event.

The Call’s Gloria Lloyd reports that the ordinance, which prohibits and limits special events and the use of temporary signs, was not enforced on schools and churches until this year.

The measure requires sponsors of special events, including nonprofit organizations, to apply in advance for a $79 county permit. In addition, any sign advertising the event requires the sponsor to obtain an additional $32 permit that allows a sign to stand for two weeks.

Talk about some bad legislation — we’d be hard-pressed to find a more ridiculous ordinance. Furthermore, we’d like to know who made the decision to start enforcing it this year.

Suffice to say, that decision hasn’t set well with Lindbergh officials, especially after the county — in its infinite wisdom — shut down a test-drive event at Lindbergh High designed to raise money for student scholarships.

In a May 2 joint letter to the County Council, Lindbergh Superintendent Jim Simpson and then-Board of Education President Vic Lenz wrote, “A $79 permit will effectively halt many events (such as the bike safety picnic or elementary rummage sale). They just don’t make enough money or they are a non-fundraising event.”

Given such opposition, the Planning Commission conducted a public hearing on possibly amending the ordinance to exclude nonprofits, including schools and churches.

It’s hard to believe that the county’s intent is to prevent the Affton Christian Church from sponsoring a craft fair to benefit Lydia’s House.

But Lead Pastor David Woodard told the Planning Commission that a county zoning officer approached his church to say it could not have the craft fair unless his church paid the more than $100 in fees.

That’s ridiculous. We urge the Planning Commission to do the right thing and recommend the ordinance be revised to exclude schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations.