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Council balks at billing event organizers

New Westminster council wants to review the way it funds community events with in-kind services.

The move follows a recommendation from its arts and cultural grants committee to charge the costs for in-kind services exceeding what was approved by council back to organizers.

A report to council Monday noted the services the city provided to three events last year were well in excess of what council approved.

In 2012, council gave the OK to $8,500 in value-in-kind for Sapperton Days, but the actual cost to the city was $13,866. The 12th Street Music Festival had $4,000 worth of services approved, but the final cost was $9,210. The biggest differential, however, was for the Downtown Business Improvement Area’s Show & Shine which received $10,000 of in-kind value from the city but the actual expense was $18,100.

“The committee believes the city’s role is to provide the essential city services needed to safely hold the events on public streets where the businesses are located, and that each event organizing committee’s role is to finance and operate the event,” said the report.

The services the city provides include setting up tents and staging, facility rental fee subsidies, trash bin supply and pickup, contracted traffic control services, road closure monitoring by police, and directional signs and barricades.

The extra expenses have had to be absorbed by the departmental operating budget without trying to recover the money from event organizers.

However, council decided to not change anything for 2013 while approving a public review of the way festivals are funded by the city.

The committee’s analysis caught council off guard, said Coun. Bill Harper. He wants the city to figure out if there are more cost efficient ways to provide the service that doesn’t tie up as much time for city staff and police.

“That was the first time we as a council saw those figures, and that’s why they actually got it tabled because we said ‘hold on, let’s talk about this,’ ” said Harper on Tuesday. “It’s really quite complicated because we also have to look at operational efficiencies … We’ve got to find a better way to do this that hopefully is cheaper.”

Coun. Jonathan Coté said it would be prudent of the city to look at the numbers.

“We want those festivals to continue on and do the great work they do in the community.

We want to know why it costs so much, still provide the same assistance and same services at the same costs,” said Coté, who balked at charging organizers for the in-kind overage costs. “That’s never been done before, and that would actually cause a lot of problems with these festivals and actually jeopardize these festivals from happening.”

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