Fees put events at risk

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Oshkosh is commonly known as Wisconsin’s Event City, hosting popular events such as Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture, Oshkosh Saturday Farmers Market, Pub Crawl, Sawdust Days, Battle on the Bago Fishing Derby, Festival Foods Turkey Trot, Irish Fest, Rock USA and Country USA.

Oshkosh’s events are a great source of entertainment for community members of all ages as well as visitors from other areas of Wisconsin and the United States. These events are especially beneficial to UW Oshkosh students who want to fill their free time.

All of these events already have some fees to pay for services, such as police presence, barricades, “no parking” signs and “tow away zone” signs, just to continue running.

The Oshkosh Common Council has been trying to pass a new ordinance that was presented on March 14 regarding special event fees, which would add additional costs to those already in place. The council should refrain from passing the ordinance in order to protect these events.

According to councilman Ben Stepanek, the primary intention of the ordinance is to cover overtime pay for the police who protect these events.

“The fees charge for things the taxpayers had been providing to these events free of charge for quite some time,” Stepanek said. “I think the goal of the council is balance. Making sure our event organizers can put on an affordable event while also [protecting] taxpayers.”

If the ordinance gets approved, it could have a negative impact on local organizations as the price to put on events goes up.

Oshkosh events are beneficial to the community in many different ways. In addition to providing entertainment for individuals who attend, these events can bring in quite a bit of income for the city.

Oshkosh Saturday Farmers Market Inc. Executive Directors Karlene and Dennis Leatherman said it is unfair for the council to press these additional fees onto special events.

“The seldom mentioned purpose for these increases was so that the city could hire an additional three police officers that the council had failed to include in their budgeting,” they said in a joint email.

The Leathermans said a working group is projected to form in order to address ways to handle the situation better. This group will include individuals from city staff, special events and the general Oshkosh community.

It is important for the city council and event organizers to come together and find a way to prevent any harm to city events.

Many of these events, like the Farmers Market and Irish Fest, help the community by bringing revenue to both the community and local businesses. If the ordinance passes, it could affect not only the events but also the city as a whole.

EAA Director of Communications Dick Knapinski said additional fees could greatly increase the cost of EAA.

“Right now, the annual fees we pay to the City of Oshkosh for services total significantly more than $100,000 per year,” Knapinski said. “If the original proposal had passed, those fees could have increased by more than 33 percent per year.”

If fees cause event costs to go up, event organizers could start charging higher attendence rates. This could turn participants away from events. There needs to be a better way to handle this situation.

According to Knapinski, an increase in fees would do irreparable harm to events of all sizes. Many Oshkosh events, EAA included, were opposed to the proposal when it was brought to the common council.

“We have no argument with reimbursing the city for the direct charges it incurs for services during those events,” Knapinski said. “However, event organizers jointly oppose the use of special event fees to fund additional city programs, cover budget shortfalls or create a revenue and profit stream for the city. We look forward to finding a fair and equitable way to solve the dilemma.”

The Leathermans said the fee for the Farmers Market would increase by about 55 percent if the ordinance were to pass.

“The market makes no profits,” they said. “It does not matter if there are 50 or 50,000 attendees. There is no admission. The only income is through vendor fees (which we will not raise), sponsorships and donations.”

These events should not be put in jeopardy by event fees.

It is understandable that the city wants to make sure it has enough resources to provide services to special events and that these services get covered, but if putting more fees on events puts the existence of the events at risk, then the ordinance should be reconsidered.

These events should not disappear just because additional fees are added that cannot be paid by event organizers.

Events are what make Oshkosh unique, and both community members and UWO students do not want to see these events disappear.