ROCKLAND, Maine — For the first time, Rockland will not pick up the tab for city expenses of the Maine Lobster Festival.
The Rockland City Council on Monday night decided the city will pay $16,704 in police and fire department overtime expenses during the August festival, but it expects to be repaid in full by June 2011 by the festival’s nonprofit.
Some councilors argued that in a fiscal year when the municipality has cut jobs, covering costs for the annual seafood festival is not easily justifiable.
The vote was 3-1 with one abstaining.
“I’m emotionally attached to the Lobster Festival,” said City Councilor Brian Harden. “However, if we waive actual costs and what it actually costs the city to provide services to this festival, then what am I going to say to the people who are talking about the money that is not going to the library, that’s not going to the police department, that’s cutting public works to the bone?
“I love the Lobster Festival. I want to support it, but I don’t want it to cost the taxpayers any money this year,” he said.
In years past the city has picked up the tab for police patrol, fire and ambulance patrol, street sweeping and garbage pickup, which make up the majority of the city’s costs for the festival, according to Rockland’s finance director Thomas Luttrell.
Before Monday’s meeting, about $37,000 was expected to be contributed to the festival. Councilors met with the president of the Rockland Festival Corp. and with city department heads to figure out how to reduce expenses. The group shaved the costs to just police and fire patrol, which came to $16,704. Most of the saving came by replacing the city employee work force with festival volunteers. Additionally, fewer police and fire department employees will be on the grounds during the festival.
Greg Blackwell, director of public works, originally budgeted $4,000 for the festival. With volunteers cleaning up after the parade, putting up street signs and barricades and taking on other tasks public employees would have, the public works festival budget could be eliminated.
“I knew they would be asking us to pay for something,” said Tim Carroll, president of the Rockland Festival Corp. “If it needs to be done, we have the volunteers. The volunteers make this happen.”
The Maine Lobster Festival has about 1,000 volunteers. Carroll said the nonprofit set its budget last October, but according to city councilors, the festival would have until June 2011 to pay any fees.
The police and fire budgets were not as easy to cut. The council met with the department heads from the fire, police and public works departments as well as the harbormaster to figure out where cuts could most easily be made. By the end of the meeting, the council voted to reduce the public works budget from $4,000 to zero; to reduce the harbor budget from $12,000 to zero by removing the harbor rental fee; to reduce the fire and emergency medical services from $6,000 to $4,440; and to reduce the police budget from $15,000 to $12,304.
This means there will be reduced policing at the festival and possibly fewer ambulance and fire staff present.
Councilor Harden said he loves the festival and that his father helped bring it to Rockland, but he did not want to spend $37,000 on it.
“If we’re going to cut a police officer out of our budget, I cannot reconcile not charging [the festival for] what the police services are,” Harden said.
He was one of the three councilors to vote to charge the $16,703 to the festival for fire and police costs.
Carroll said that because the festival contributes so much to the community, the city should help with some costs.
“Because of the value we bring, there needs to be some costs the city recognizes,” he said after the meeting.
The festival this year will cost about $750,000 to bring to Rockland without the costs from the city, according to Carroll.
He said the nonprofit did not budget for additional fees from the city.
In the past 10 years, the festival has brought $927,300 to the city in charitable contributions, such as scholarships, an ambulance the festival purchased for the city and improvements the festival made to Rockland park, among other things, according to figures from Rockland Festival Corp. The figures do not include the eco-nomic impact on area businesses.
“The value of what the Maine Lobster Festival has to offer has some bearing as to the value of the city and the cost to the city of putting on an event that attracts thousands of people year after year,” Carroll said. “I feel like we need to come to some sort of resolve that’s amicable to both the Maine Lobster Festival and the city. We don’t want to be a burden on the city.”
Carroll said he worked with department heads before Monday’s meeting to lower the cost of the festival to the city.
The Maine Lobster Festival will be held Aug. 4-8.