Concern expressed over fee study
Nonprofits may struggle to continue events if fees are increased
Leaders of nonprofit organizations that put on popular events in the borough’s downtown district say they are concerned what impact the increased fees that borough officials have suggested they should pay to offset security and maintenance costs may have on those events.
“We want to have a dialogue and find a solution that works for everybody,” said Mark Yoder, president of the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce in an interview Friday, a day before the organization’s Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic was set to begin. “But we are on a razor-thin margin. We don’t have money to cover those (increased) fees.”
Yoder, as did Matt Holliday, the president elect of the Rotary Club of West Chester, which puts on the West Chester Chili Cook Off in the fall, suggested that if a workable solution to the Borough Council’s discussion on raising fees is not found, their events might have to be discontinued or moved to another location.
“We completely understand
that the borough needs to be fiscally balanced. But these increases are astronomical,” said Holliday, pointing to the 486-percent hike in costs for the group’s charitable chili event cited in the borough’s projections. “We enjoy doing this because it is a major event for the borough of West Chester. It makes it a pleasant place to live.
“I think it not wise to attempt to place the burden (of costs) on the backs of nonprofit organizations that are trying to do something nice for the borough of West Chester,” Holliday said in an interview last week in his office. He serves as the Chester County prothonotary.
Last month, members of the Public Safety and Finance committees unveiled figures that they contend reflect the actual expenses the borough incurs for events like this weekend’s cycling race, the Chili Cook Off, the Cyldesdales Parade, and the annual West Chester Christmas Parade, versus what has been paid by the sponsoring organizations in the past.
The difference cited was stark.
For example, the difference between what the Rotary Club was charged for its 2017 chili event and what the committee suggested was the true cost was $14,470. The organization paid $2,973 in 2017, plus the contribution of parking fees generated at the borough’s two downtown garages.
Likewise, the bicycle race that the chamber puts on every year was estimated to cost the borough $26,502 in 2018, a full $16,436 more than the committee says the chamber paid last year. The increased fee the committee suggests should be charged would amount to a hike of 163 percent.
Councilman Bernie Flynn, a member of both the Public Safety and Finance and Revenue committees, put the figures together. In a phone interview Friday, he said he found that the actual costs of the borough for things like police coverage, parking attendants, borough recreation staff, ambulance coverage, and barricades and meter bags “far exceeded” what the nonprofit groups had been asked to pay in the past.
In addition, Flynn’s presentation, delivered at a council meeting July 18, also examined the costs previously associated with borough-sponsored events such as the West Chester Restaurant Festival, Super Sunday, and the annual Halloween Parade. All showed massive differences between what Flynn said the actual costs were and what was budgeted previously.
Flynn’s cost projections attempt to set true expenses for services that had previously been estimated. “There was never even a base line as to actual event costs,” he said. “Now we know exactly what it costs to put on an event. And moving forward, we will know.”
But Flynn acknowledged that the new cost projections that his study shows could have an impact on whether events such as the Chili Cook Off and Christmas Parade, or even the borough-sponsored events continue.
“I hope that no one event is ever cancelled,” he said. “But I don’t know what (the organizations’) intentions are. That doesn’t fall under what I did. My job was to make sure what our costs are, and to make sure everybody knows what the costs are for events.”
Yoder and Holliday, as well as Malcom Johnstone of the West Chester Business Improvement District, which sponsors the Cyldesdales appearance, have raised questions about the accuracy of Flynn’s figures, suggesting they include “accounting” costs not truly associated with the event activities. Yoder pointed to the projected costs of $2,600 for 10 police vehicles at the Christmas Parade, even though those cars would mostly be shut down for the bulk of the event.
Are the projected costs fair? a reporter asked. “That is an open question,” Johnstone responded. “A reasonable person can look at these numbers and say those are the accounting costs, versus the out-of-pocket costs. We think the out-of-pocket costs are more realistic.”
Flynn defended his projections, and rejected that he had included unnecessary costs that inflated their value.
All three of the leaders expressed optimism that they could work with the borough officials to find an equitable solution. But that optimism was tinged with pragmatic doubts about the future of the events should that process fail.
Yoder also notes that a recent West Chester University study of the economic impact of the Christmas and bicycling events was overwhelmingly beneficial to the borough. And Holliday pointed out that the money the Rotary makes from the chili event goes directly to charitable organizations in the area, with $32,000 distributed among 11 agencies in 2017.
“We are very sympathetic that events all be as safe as they can be, and we need to have first responders available,” said Johnstone. “But our feelings are that the costs are two or three times what we have been paying. There is the question at what point is it simply not economically feasible to put that event on.
“The Borough Council has a responsibility to the taxpayers that they are being fiscally responsible,” Johnstone said. “The final answer is going to be something in between. We are dealing with people who really care about the community, so I am convinced we will get through this.”
West Chester’s chili cook-off is a big hit every year.