Annapolis Council's Chintzy Idea

April 07, 1994

That squeaking noise you hear is the Annapolis City Council, so tight that it wants a non-profit organization to pay expenses for a community event that brings the city substantial benefits.

It apparently galls the council that First Night Annapolis, which puts on a wonderful alcohol-free arts festival on New Year's Eve, had $205,000 in a reserve fund as of March 31, 1993, the end of its '93 fiscal year. If First Night is doing that well, the council asks,

why should the city donate police and fire protection and bus service? The council is all ready to bill First Night for services. It's a crusade being led by Carl O. Snowden, who was recently named chairman of the council's Economic Matters Committee and seems to be emerging as the council's new fiscal watchdog.

Before the council proceeds, however, it ought to think about whether the city should be so shortsighted and cheap. Of 105 cities with similar New Year's Eve events, Annapolis would be among less than 10 that refuse to contribute. It's not as though First Night costs Annapolis that much, or that Annapolis is in dire financial straits. The city is in such good economic shape, in fact, that it was

recently awarded its highest bond rating ever. It can afford the relatively insignificant expense of First Night -- about $12,000 a year. Moreover, the First Night event yields economic benefits that far outstrip the city's investment. Restaurants, shops and inns have done a booming business on New Year's Eve since the event began.

First Night is not just like the boat show, contrary to what some aldermen think. The annual Annapolis Boat Show Inc., which pays Annapolis rent to use City Dock, is a for-profit event designed to benefit a specific industry. First Night is non-profit, designed to benefit the community. The organization provides a service -- giving people a place to enjoy family-oriented, alcohol-free New Year's Eve entertainment. And it supports the arts. If the city refuses to pay its modest share of First Night expenses, it sends the unmistakable message that it doesn't care about either.

The cash First Night has in the bank is just about enough to cover the cost of one year's production in case of bad weather or some other emergency. The city should stop eyeing it so greedily and realize that it gets much more from First Night than it gives.

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