Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has rescinded a short-lived administration policy that would have required community organizations to pay a security deposit on wooden booths and stages borrowed from the city for neighborhood festivals.
The mayor announced the policy change yesterday, saying that many neighborhood organizations had expressed concerns about being able to afford the security deposit.
"We didn't realize that such a modest cost would become such a major burden on neighborhoods," the mayor said.
City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said she and other council members also got calls from organizations complaining about the security deposit.
The city maintains 245 booths and stages it provides to neighborhood organizations for festivals. Until this year, those booths were provided free of charge.
But Schmoke said the number of booths and stages vandalized during neighborhood festivals escalated sharply over the past several years. Although no comparative year-to-year figures were available yesterday, Sarane McHugh, chief of fiscal services for the Department of Public Works, said the city paid out about $40,000 to repair vandalism damage that occurred during last year's festival season.
George C. Balog, city public works director, said in many cases neighborhood groups wanted booths delivered a day before festivals were to begin but didn't have the people to watch over the booths to guard against vandalism.
To offset the cost of repairing the booths and stages, the administration decided to charge neighborhood organizations a security deposit which varied depending on the type and number of booths needed. The deposit was refundable if no damages were sustained.
For example, a neighborhood organization wanting six to 10 regular booths would have been required to pay a total deposit of $200. An 8-foot by 8-foot food booth would have required a $150 deposit per booth. A neighborhood group would have had to plunk down a $200 deposit for a stage 16 feet by 16 feet.
The security deposit would have applied to festivals held in the neighborhoods, not to the City Fair or the ethnic festivals, the mayor said.
The administration announced its security deposit policy prior to the spring and summer festival season, Schmoke said, adding that one neighborhood group received a $500 grant to put on a community festival only to discover that all the grant money would have to be spent on the security deposit on the booths it needed.
Joanne Whitely, a officer in the Union Square Association Inc., lauded the administration for changing its policy, noting that "community organizations put so much back into the city when they hold these kinds of festivals."
The administration is going to set up a fund from which money will be used to pay for repair and maintenance of the booths. The mayor said money from the Department of Public Works, Department of Transportation and the Mayor's Office budgets will be reallocated to create this pool.
"We will also charge neighborhood groups a one-time contribution to this pool that won't be a financial burden on them," Schmoke said. The exact amount of the one-time contribution and the amount of city funds to be reallocated has yet to be worked out, he added.