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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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How much should events pay for security from Spokane cops? City Council weighs options

Mens elite competitors battle it out ON Nike Center Court during Hoopfest 2019.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Mens elite competitors battle it out ON Nike Center Court during Hoopfest 2019. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

Just ask a Hoopfest organizer about dump trucks.

When the city required several years ago that dump trucks be used to close off streets, it unloaded a last-minute and unexpected public safety cost on the organizers of events including Bloomsday and Hoopfest.

For years, the city has struggled to strike a balance between the community benefit provided by iconic events and the taxpayer cost of providing security for them.

It’s still struggling, but city officials and event organizers both say they’re making progress toward the same goal – making events sustainable without draining the city budget.

After months of committee discussions, a proposal that would set a new standard of payment for city events is on Monday’s Spokane City Council agenda – but will likely be deferred.

“I think we’re getting really close, but I don’t know if we’re going to be there on Monday,” City Council President Breean Beggs said after the issue was discussed in a study session on Thursday.

In its session, the council acknowledged that it has received a flood of questions and concerns about the proposal.

As written, the ordinance would require the city to bill event organizers, depending on the type of event, for a portion of the cost incurred by the city for dedicating public safety personnel to staff it. Currently, city law calls for events to pay 100% of the city’s costs – but that law is often waived by the mayor or City Council in favor of a cost-sharing agreement.

Community events like parades would pay 25% of the city’s costs, while almost every other event, like an outdoor concert, would pay 75%. Three legacy events – Hoopfest, Pig Out in the Park and Bloomsday – would be excluded, however, due to their reported economic impact on the city, and pay half of the city’s costs.

Those security costs can add up quickly as officers are generally paid overtime to staff them. Costs from Hoopfest alone have exceeded $100,000 in each of the past five years.

“No different than the city, our costs are something that we’re really, really scared about, especially in these times,” said Mark Starr, Lilac Bloomsday Association president.

Although major events like Hoopfest require a heavy police presence, most do not. In practice, the new model will only increase the estimated amount recovered by the city by about $27,000. But city officials say it’s a more equitable approach than the status quo.

“This isn’t necessarily about the city recouping money, it’s just trying to balance that out a little bit and make it more fair and equitable between the different events,” Carly Cartwright, a city staffer, explained to the City Council on Thursday.

Under the new structure, Hoopfest’s 2019 payment to the city would have increased by $14,538, from $54,388 to $68,926.

Bloomsday and Pig Out in the Park, however, would actually have saved money under the tiered structure, including almost $9,000 for Bloomsday, a drop of nearly 20%.

It would, however, raise the cost for several parades that, in 2019, paid nothing. The Lilac Parade would have paid about $16,000 that year under the new structure, while the St. Patrick’s Day Parade would have paid about $5,500.

Spokane Lilac Festival President Dan VerHeul told KHQ this week the 83-year-old parade does have “options available to us.”

“As we move forward, we’ve had to explore other options, not knowing what’s going to happen in Spokane. So, I don’t believe the festival will go away. I just don’t know what location the festival will take place,” VerHeul said.

But it’s not just the amount that worries event organizers, it’s the randomness. For example, they don’t get a say in how many officers are assigned to the event or what their rate of overtime pay is.

“It’s the underlying cost that’s the issue, not the cost recovery percentage,” said Matt Santangelo, executive director of Hoopfest.

Beggs acknowledged that what event organizers want is consistency, and that a percentage of expected public safety costs is difficult to plan for.

“They actually need a contract that says in 2022, ‘You’re going to pay this much,’ ” Beggs said.

Beggs and event organizers have contemplated directing some of the tax revenues generated during the events’ tourism surge at local restaurants and hotels to be diverted toward defraying security costs.

“We don’t necessarily want the city to dig into its pockets so that this event can take place,” Starr said.

The two major events estimate their annual economic impact to be greater than $60 million in the region, but they worry that their costs will become prohibitive if passed on to the consumer. It’s not just the entry fee – $152 for an adult team of three – that a player has to consider, but the cost of a hotel room, which tends to surge on Hoopfest weekend.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear what sponsorship revenue will look like after the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, Starr noted.

Bloomsday is a famously inexpensive race for its participants, but “any costs that are passed onto us, obviously somehow we’ve got to make it work,” Starr said.

Officials stressed that the changes would actually only affect a relatively small number of events. Of the 212 special event applications the city received in 2019, only 28 required the presence of public safety officials, and only 21 of those were billed.

Councilman Michael Cathcart suggested that every event should have “skin in the game,” but that the city cover as much as 80% for events with the highest economic impact.

“We don’t want a big event like Hoopfest to leave the downtown core and say, go out to (Spokane) Valley or some other place,” Cathcart said.

The law will not impact demonstrations, which are already capped at $500 in expenses under city code as a result of a lawsuit against the city.

“There’s a lot of federal law that says you can’t charge people almost anything for a demonstration kind of parade, because it’s an obstruction to people,” Beggs explained.

Starr and Santangelo credited the city with working in recent years to address the organizers’ concerns.

“We have a great partnership with the city; we never want to sound sour,” Santangelo said. “We just want to make sure we’re standing strong as to how we need to organize, promote and operate these events.”

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