Historically, the city of Spokane has provided free public safety services to parades like the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade that headlines the annual Lilac Festival.
That’s set to change starting next year.
The Spokane City Council moved Monday to adopt an ordinance that adjusts what the city will charge as reimbursement for public safety services provided to citywide events.
Of the approximately $2.3 million in uniform overtime accrued by the Spokane Police Department in 2019, $332,691 – or 14% – was devoted to personnel costs linked with special events coverage, said Carly Cortright, director of neighborhood services.
In an effort to recover those types of costs, the ordinance sets a flat fee that charges 25% of total public safety personnel costs for parades and 75% of those costs for all other events.
The legislation, meanwhile, separately lays out a fee table for seven Spokane traditional events, recognized as “legacy events” in the law itself: Bloomsday, Hoopfest, Pig Out in the Park, the Lilac Festival’s Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, the Junior Lilac Parade, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Hillyard Hi-Jinx Parade.
Prior to the change, the city was entitled by law, but not required, to be reimbursed 100% of the costs associated with public safety coverage at these events, Cortright said.
While the city could have sought full reimbursement, waivers have historically been given in recognition of the impacts certain events have on the community, Cortright said. As such, parades had received public safety services for free, while the costs to Spokane’s de facto “Big Three” – Pig Out, Bloomsday and Hoopfest – were typically shared, with the city covering 40% of the costs.
Most of the costs are borne from Spokane Police Department overtime expenses in providing traffic and crowd control services for events on city streets. Cortright said parks events usually require less crowd control and are therefore typically less costly, though Pig Out is a notable exception.
City officials have been working on adjusting the reimbursement ordinance for years now amid perceived equity issues with that prior formula, however.
“We recognize that we can’t make our parades foot the entire bill. There’s no way they can afford that and we wouldn’t be able to have parades,” Cortright said, “so what’s the happy medium where we can get to have everybody pay something and not force an event to be unable to move forward.”
The fee schedule table for legacy events was based on five-year averages of public safety costs they incurred. Their public safety costs start out waived this year, then scale up by 25% of the five-year average until capping at 75% in 2025 and beyond.
The exception is the Hi-Jinx Parade, which will start at $200 in 2023 and max out at $400 starting in 2024. The Hi-Jinx schedule was set through an amendment brought forward last month by Councilman Michael Cathcart.
In addition, the ordinance will change what the city charged as a $50 administrative processing fee into a fee that scales based on the event’s size, ranging from $50 for events with up to 50 attendees to $500 for those with more than 10,000.
The ordinance still allows waivers by the mayor or City Council.
In developing the legislation over the last few years, city officials were keen to waive this year’s costs and scale up from there to allow the city’s legacy events to find their footing after a tumultuous few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cortright said.
“Nobody is trying to put these events out of business, but we do need to be able to support our general fund,” she said. “This is a significant portion of police’s budget to be able to provide the overtime for these events and we’re also really in a place where we’re down police officers and they’re stretched thin.”
The Lilac Festival’s Armed Forces Torchlight Parade – which, like other citywide parades, historically received a waiver for public safety costs – is scheduled to owe $20,000 starting in 2025 and beyond.
“Twenty thousand dollars … is going to be a burden,” Alan Hart, this year’s Lilac Festival president, told the City Council on Monday in his argument against passing the ordinance. “It’s going to be a burden because we have to raise our funds from the community. We raise our funds from the businesses out there. And we do that by volunteers.
Greg Mason can be reached at (509) 459-5047 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on June 8, 2022, to indicate that the $2.3 million reflects the amount accrued in uniform overtime.