UPDATE (1/22/2015): Kat has posted a detailed report on her website of what transpired at the meeting last night. In short, it was very positive for photographers! The largest turn out ever seen at a Parks Authority Meeting made their views heard prompting an acknowledgement from Board members that “the process requires immediate change.” The Board thanked the group for educating them about the industry and how the current fee system affects their livelihood.
Next comes the requisite comment period and subsequent committee to decide what actions to recommend. Any changes or adjustments would come into effect April 1, 2015, but Kat is hopeful that the Board will suspend the permit and fee until a decision has been made, and that the final decision will be to completely remove them both.
This is a guest post by Kat Forder; she owns a portrait studio outside of Baltimore, Md.
Next Wednesday, the Fairfax County Park Authority Board will meet to hear public opinion on photography permit fees. These fees are uniquely applied to photographers in public parks – no other businesses or individuals using public parks are charged a special fee – and Fairfax is the only Virginia county to implement such a fee.
This is the last meeting they will hold before voting whether or not to continue requiring photographers to pay permit fees in all Fairfax County Parks. The rate is currently $100 per use in any public park, but the county has new proposed fees which have not yet been made public.
I have researched and tracked the changes with local outdoor photography permits for the last three years, and the trend has overwhelmingly been towards more fees, increased fees, and fees implemented with little public consultation and sometimes very little cause. The paperwork and fees have a significant impact on the time and resources of small businesses. Often the reason stated for implementing fees is “significant damage” or “immense impact and damages” to park property. A colleague (and Fairfax resident) and I have made several requests to Fairfax County and the National Park Service for copies of police reports, incident reports, or details of the damage caused by portrait photographers using public parks in Virginia and D.C.; we’ve received no response.
I’ve had extensive conversations with colleagues regarding the trend in permit fees, and the majority of professional photographers support the effort by the various counties, states, and park services to maintain our public spaces and ensure everyone can use them fairly. Local professional photographers are generally in favor of reasonable and straightforward park permit fees that are based on actual need, and have consistent application of policies, fees and procedures. Many are in favor of annual permits to access our most frequently used parks. This would reduce many of the concerns and burdens expressed by these small business owners.
Local photographers also completely understand and support private entities that are charging fees for use of their own green spaces. Maintaining outdoor spaces is a necessary and vital community and public service. However, Fairfax County’s published list of “comparable” parks used for justification of the fees includes only privately held parks or parks that require admission. No public/free park in Virginia or elsewhere is included in their analysis, and they have offered no response when notified of this apples to orange comparison.
There is a growing concern among local photographers that:
- the fees required by public parks are becoming excessive – anywhere from 30 to 3,000% of the fee that we charge our clients for our time. No other business has a 30-3000% fee levied in order to do business;
- the permit process itself places an undue burden on small businesses, and restricts our ability to do business;
- the fees collected and the method of collection can vary greatly, even within the same park. This leads to mistrust and uncertainty about how our fees are spent;
- the regulations are inconsistently applied, and we receive conflicting information from park representatives. Sometimes we’re told that no permit is required, other times we’re quoted rates beyond what is published, and still other times we’re told that no photography is permitted in the park.
- no other business in Fairfax County is restricted from making use of public parks through a fee and permit process, including fitness/yoga instructors, nannies, dog walkers, writers, painters, sculptors, and others who conduct business or classes in public parks, sometimes at a far greater cost with regard to damage than a photographer and a family;
- because of inconsistent application of regulations, clients will shop around for a business willing to bend the rules or avoid applying for a permit; and
- the purpose and use of the funds collected is not transparent to the average resident.
Many of us continue to advocate for a permit process that is reasonable, and serves everyone’s needs, but these issues need to be addressed by the county.
|Event Date:||Wednesday, January 21, 2015|
|Location:||Herrity Building – Rooms 106/107, 12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA|
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