Bill to ask events to pay for services Alderman is upset that First Night billed city for police costs

December 09, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

When Alderman Herb McMillan found out that the nonprofit group First Night Annapolis had stuck the city with a bill of several thousand dollars for extra police officers hired for crowd and traffic control during last year's festivities, he was furious.

With the group's annual budget of $400,000 for the New Year's Eve bash, McMillan felt sure it could afford the police tab better than taxpayers could.

At Monday's city council meeting, the Ward 5 Republican said he will introduce legislation to charge event organizers for city facilities and services .

"Some people will try to make it sound like a Grinch-that-stole-Christmas type of thing," McMillan said. "But this is a way for [the city] to get some control and not be left with these costs all the time."

According to a draft he submitted yesterday, the ordinance he is proposing aims at "reducing subsidized use of city facilities and services." The services mentioned include traffic and crowd control, trash removal and public safety support from the Police and Fire departments.

The proposal is a revision of one McMillan introduced in October that would have charged organizers for use of city facilities. His new proposal would also require groups that rent city facilities to pay "fair, consistent and equitable charges for them."

McMillan said he was disturbed to learn that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation paid about $3,000 a year to rent a slip on the city dock that is worth at least $15,000.

The proposed ordinance drew largely positive reviews.

"I think we're all concerned that there's not a consistent policy. There does not appear to be a clear-cut set of rules over who pays and who doesn't pay" for city facilities and services, said Alderman Joseph Sachs, a Ward 4 Republican and chairman of the city Finance Committee.

Ward 1 Democratic Alderman Louise Hammond said that with Mayor Dean L. Johnson considering a sewer and water rate increase for next year and the city council's 2-cent property tax increase passed in June, this is a good time to examine where city money is being spent and whether the expenditures are justified.

"We have to be more diligent in our efforts to keep the tax rate down," Hammond said.

Janice Gary, executive director of First Night Annapolis, said the proposal is worrisome.

"We'll want to look carefully at the ordinance that's being proposed and have some input in it," Gary said.

"We would hate to see a situation happen where it would not be feasible for us to produce this event at all."

McMillan said his legislation will upset many who enjoy such events as First Night but that it gives the city council power to waive the fees. He said one event that will probably qualify for a waiver is the march to football games by Naval Academy midshipmen.

"The Naval Academy provides so much to the city for us to not include money in the budget for that," McMillan said. The march "is part of the fabric of the city."

Gary said First Night is, too.

"It brings economic value to the city," Gary said.

"The hotels are filled. We've had restaurants tell us that they're packed. Retail shops tell us it's one of the best nights of the year. It brings everyone together in the spirit of community in a way that enhances the quality of life here," she said.

McMillan said that if events such as First Night are that popular, organizers shouldn't have to worry about extra costs.

"If you raise the price of tickets, you'll still have people begging to buy your ticket, because it's just so much fun," he said.

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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