Ches. City approves increased outdoor music fees
Hike doesn’t come without heartburn
— 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
$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.
Chesapeake City town officials recently approved an increase in outdoor music permit fees, in part, to help offset its police protection costs.