Organizers don't want city fees to rain on their parades

October 09, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

The Schmoke administration next year will charge fees for sanitation, police and other services the city provides for the hundreds of festivals, parades and foot races held in Baltimore ,, each year.

The administration says the city can no longer bear the financial burden of providing the services without compensation. But event organizers say the new fees will put a big dent in their budgets and could eventually kill some of the festive gatherings that have become a hallmark of Baltimore.

"If this keeps up, I think they're going to eventually phase out all festivals by making them financially impossible to put on," said Diane L. Marianos, coordinator of the Highlandtown Merchants Association, which annually sponsors two large festivals in Southeast Baltimore.

The city earlier this week began sending letters to event organizers and community leaders outlining the new fee

structure, which could cost the non-profit organizers of large events thousands of dollars. The city plans to begin imposing the new fees in January.

"What we've been doing is subsidizing these events over the years," said Mari B. Ross, chairwoman of the city's Events Committee. "We just don't have the resources to do this any longer."

The new fees -- which many event organizers had expected for months -- anger the people who put together the street festivals and other gatherings that grew in popularity when Gov. William Donald Schaefer was mayor. They say the Schmoke administration underestimates the value of festivals and other events to the city.

"This will hurt our budget immensely," said Ms. Marianos. "I understand the city is dealing with a budget crunch . . . but we all pay property taxes and other taxes. I think we should get these services; we don't get much else from the city."

Administration officials insist that they want to encourage festivals. But the city's ongoing budget crunch leaves them with the hard choice between supporting festivals or more essential city services, they said.

"We want festivals to stay here in Baltimore," Ms. Ross said. "Imposing the fees, which only reimburse the city for our hard costs, is the only way we can continue to provide services to support festivals."

The Highlandtown group sponsors two events each year, a Preakness Fun Festival and an autumnHarvest Festival, which was canceled this year because of organizational problems. When the weather is good, each event draws between 60,000 and 70,000 people, Ms. Marianos said.

Mark A. Kendal, coordinator of Baltimore's Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza, said he understood the city's position. But, still, he added that the new fees are "very short-sighted."

This year, his group had to pay for police services because of conflicts the festival and its parade had with other city events, including an Orioles game. In all, he said, his group spent about $75,000 to put on the three-day festival.

"We understand things are stretched thin," Mr. Kendal said. "But our festival brings people into the city, but we are getting no support from the city."

Mr. Kendal says his festival, held this year in Druid Hill Park, imports soca and calypso bands and mask makers from Trinidad. Also, he said, festival-goers come from places such as Toronto, Montreal, New York City and Texas to attend the bash. Last month the festival drew about 70,000 people, he said.

For at least the past four years, the city also has charged groups for a variety of costs it incurs through festivals. Among them are fees for traffic control work, parking meters put out of use by festivals, and electrical wiring of stages and vendor booths.

Organizers will now be charged for police protection when a festival requires a special contingent of police officers. Also, the city will charge for the work of its sanitation crews and for the delivery, construction and installation of festival equipment, including vendor booths and stages. There also will be a charge imposed for use of park land.

Ms. Ross said that many festival organizers may choose to minimize some of these costs by cleaning up the streets after their festivals or hiring private security.

"We struggled for a long time to keep the wolf from the door in this area," Ms. Ross said. "But push came to shove."

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