Con­cern ex­pressed over fee study

Non­prof­its may strug­gle to con­tinue events if fees are in­creased

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

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.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

West Ch­ester’s chili cook-off is a big hit ev­ery year.

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