Sussex council refining special-events ordinance

Event organizers will have new, improved online application
September 14, 2018

Sussex County officials say a modified short-term special events ordinance is more understandable than the original ordinance presented to the public nearly a year ago.

At county council's Sept. 11 meeting, County Administrator Todd Lawson said the ordinance specifically defines which events are covered and which events are not. “There was some misunderstanding, and now it's spelled out in a much clearer way,” he said.

A new application form was presented to council for review. Once the ordinance is approved, the application will be available on-line through the county website. Event coordinators are required to fill out the application at least 60 days prior to an event.

He said events in municipalities and on private property for personal enjoyment and not for business or commercial uses, without admission charges, are exempt as are events on federal, state and county land. In addition, property owned by schools, religious organizations, volunteer fire departments, fraternal organizations and veterans organizations is also exempt.

However, organizers staging large events or potentially dangerous events should fill out an application for potential Sussex EMS public safety coverage.

He said if a fire department hosts a boxing match, paramedics should attend, but there is no need for paramedics at events such as the annual oyster eat, also sponsored by a fire department. “It's a case-by-case basis,” Lawson said.

Lawson said county EMS staff attend hundreds of events each year with about 40 percent paying fees. He said at 99 percent of events, organizers ask the county for assistance. In some cases, paramedics already on duty can cover an event.

“Ones that don't know they need approval and contact Delaware State Police or DelDOT then learn they also have to contact the county,” he said.

No more than three events per year

Under the ordinance, special events are any events held outdoors or within a temporary structure for a purpose different from the permitted use on a parcel.

No more than three special events can be approved for the same property during a calendar year. Setup and removal time when the event is not underway is not counted.

Special events include carnivals, circuses, promotional and tent sales, fairs, festivals, concerts, rodeos, shows, races/walks and all other mass gathering events.

Events are approved by the planning and zoning director or her designee. The director has the option to place conditions on an event.

Council has placed the ordinance on its Tuesday, Sept. 18 agenda in anticipation of a vote.

County provides EMS services

The county provides paramedics, dispatchers and the emergency command unit to assist with some events. “We are trying to recover our costs and not make money,” Lawson said.

Under the current plan, paramedics are $60 an hour, dispatchers are $40 an hour and use of the mobile command center is $40 an hour.

Lawson said all event organizers will need to coordinate with the county concerning public safety coverage, but that does mean all events will require those services. “We can mandate public safety services,” Lawson said.

Failure to file an application could result in termination of the special event's administrative approval.

Lawson said public safety coverage is separate from the land-use process or planning and zoning office approval.

Lawson said there is now better coordination between the planning and zoning department, public safety and administration. In addition, applications will be forwarded to state agencies involved in events such as Delaware State Police, Delaware Department of Transportation and Delaware Fire Marshal's Office.

Cole questions the ordinance

Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, questioned who follows up to make sure organizers comply with the information provided in the application. “The only way we know is after the fact,” he said. “This is a baby step, but I don't know if we are accomplishing anything.”

Lawson said organizers must sign off that everything in the application is accurate.

“How do we know the impact of an event before it occurs?” Cole asked.

“It's called trusting the community,” replied Glenn Marshall, EMS special operations coordinator.

EMS Director Robert Stuart said there is an action report filed after every event that paramedics attend.

“I didn't know that,” Cole said. “I'd like to see that. That report should be in the file.”

Marshall said the only complaint they have received involved a concert at Hudson Fields. He said he was getting phone calls during the concert.

“It was addressed immediately for the next concert, and changes were made to the venue,” he said.

Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, said the county should not take on the role of policing special events and leave that to state agencies.

“You are wrong,” Cole told Arlett.

Assistant county attorney Vince Robertson said information on special events will be available beforehand at the county planning and zoning office. “We are taking a lot of steps in the right direction,” he said.

Marshall said event organizers receive an estimate before an event and have 30 days after the event to pay the final bill.

Cole said at least some of the fees should be collected before an event.

“We are trying to make the process more streamlined and efficient,” Lawson said. “But it's not so sophisticated that someone can't pick up a phone and call us.”