Ches. City ap­proves in­creased out­door mu­sic fees

Hike doesn’t come with­out heart­burn

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By JA­COB OWENS

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— The town coun­cil re­cently ap­proved a hike of out­door mu­sic per­mit fees, but the de­ci­sion didn’t come with­out some heart­burn from the elected of­fi­cials.

Mayor Dean Geraci­mos jus­ti­fied the more than dou­bling of some fees by point­ing out that the town had never in­creased its fee sched­ule and say­ing that the es­tab­lish­ments that ben­e­fit from the per­mits should help in­cur some of the as­so­ci­ated costs.

The res­o­lu­tion passed by the coun­cil at its April 4 meet­ing in­creases the per­mits to $300 for one week, $600 for one month, $1,600 for three months and $3,000 for six months. Pre­vi­ously, the town charged $100 for a weekly per­mit, $300 for a three-month per­mit al­low­ing once a week mu­sic, $450 for a three-month per­mit al­low­ing three times a week mu­sic or $600 for a three­month per­mit al­low­ing mu­sic ev­ery day.

Town Coun­cil­woman Trudy Carter ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that the town didn’t no­tify the af­fected busi­ness own­ers of the pro­posal be­fore vot­ing on it.

“They al­ready have all of their bands si­t­u­ated for the sea­son, so you’re all of a sud­den go­ing to go from

CH­E­SA­PEAKE CITY

$600 for three months up to $1,600 for three months. Whereas if we’d done th­ese pre­vi­ously, they could have built this into the fees they’re pay­ing the bands,” she said. “I just think it’s a lot of money to be throw­ing out there at the last minute.”

When Geraci­mos called for a mo­tion to ac­cept the res­o­lu­tion, Coun­cil­man Bill Min­ers made the mo­tion, but his col­leagues fell silent when asked for a sec­ond. Just be­fore Geraci­mos was about to call the vote closed, Coun­cil­man Harry Samp­son asked if the board could re­visit the is­sue in a month, al­low­ing time to no­tify busi­nesses.

Town staff ex­plained that the mea­sure couldn’t wait that long as es­tab­lish­ments would be com­ing into town hall any day to pick up months-long per­mits, negat­ing any po­ten­tial rev­enue for the year from the res­o­lu­tion.

“What if they balk at this?” Samp­son asked. “I’ll sec­ond it as long as we can re­visit this if peo­ple don’t want to do it.”

Geraci­mos told Samp­son that he didn’t want to pur­sue the fee hike if the board wasn’t com­fort­able with the idea and would want to de­crease the fees in the short term.

“Ei­ther you be­lieve in this, or it goes on the back-burner and it’s done,” he said. “But when you look at the bud­get and say, ‘Oh God, look at the money we’re spend­ing on our se­cu­rity, trash pickup, etc.,’ we’re go­ing to say, ‘Hey, re­mem­ber when we wanted to do this?’”

Fol­low­ing ad­di­tional con­ver­sa­tion, Samp­son sec­onded the mo­tion and joined Min­ers and Coun­cil­man Frank Vari in its ap­proval. Carter was the lone dis­sent­ing vote in the 3-1 ap­proval.

As re­cently as Novem­ber 2014, Ch­e­sa­peake City of­fi­cials dis­cussed ways to raise new rev­enue, in­clud­ing ty­ing its out­door mu­sic per­mit fees to an es­tab­lish­ment’s oc­cu­pancy or cre­at­ing fines for es­tab­lish­ments that re­quired vis­its from law en­force­ment. Un­like those pro­pos­als, how­ever, this lat­est mea­sure sim­ply in­creases the cost of the per­mits them­selves.

The res­o­lu­tion does not af­fect non­prof­its that host events in town, such as the pop­u­lar Sun­days in the Park pro­gram than runs through the sum­mer months, but tar­gets the town’s largest restau­rants, es­pe­cially the Ch­e­sa­peake Inn Restau­rant & Ma­rina and Schae­fer’s Canal House, which use out­door mu­sic to draw pa­trons to the water­front town.

Gian­marco Mar­tus­celli, owner of the Ch­e­sa­peake Inn Restau­rant and Ma­rina, said the in­creases were just some­thing that his busi­ness would have to con­tend with.

“In busi­ness, you are al­ways deal­ing with in­creases of some sort, whether it’s your util­i­ties or in this case, the mu­sic per­mits,” he said. “We try to not let those things af­fect the ex­pe­ri­ence our pa­trons have.”

At the Ch­e­sa­peake Inn, a cover charge is used later in the evening to re­coup some costs of the per­mit­ting and bands, Mar­tus­celli said.

“We try not to charge a cover as much as pos­si­ble, be­cause many pa­trons like to come just for din­ner,” he said. “We only play a duo or a trio out­side in the af­ter­noon, and our night­time mu­sic doesn’t start un­til about 9 p.m. on Fri­days and Satur­days, when we start charg­ing a cover.”

Geraci­mos, who owns stakes in an Ocean City restau­rant, said he did not be­lieve the per­mit fee hike would do much fi­nan­cial dam­age to the town’s largest busi­nesses, not­ing a $1,000 in­crease on the most popu- lar per­mit was “more than fair” and “was still a cheap price to do busi­ness.”

“The in­crease is prob­a­bly less than many oth­ers but ob­vi­ously more than noth­ing,” he said af­ter the meet­ing. “It gets us nowhere close to the cost of the ex­tra po­lice pro­tec­tion that we have here for those ope­nair per­mit things, but ev­ery lit­tle bit helps.”

As the town ap­proaches bud­get sea­son, Geraci­mos said he is pre­par­ing for an­other po­ten­tial in­crease in the Ce­cil County Sher­iff’s Of­fice’s con­tract with the town, not­ing that each of the last two an­nual con­tracts fea­tured in­creased costs. Cur­rently, the town pays $46 an hour for its four weekly shifts of deputies, who pri­mar­ily pa­trol town on the week­ends due to the high num­ber of vis­i­tors at the town’s big­gest restau­rants, cost­ing Ch­e­sa­peake City up­ward of $100,000 an­nu­ally.

“We hope it won’t have an in­crease, but it prob­a­bly will,” he said.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

Ch­e­sa­peake City town of­fi­cials re­cently ap­proved an in­crease in out­door mu­sic per­mit fees, in part, to help off­set its po­lice pro­tec­tion costs.

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