Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Milwaukee Losing As Summerfest Safety Costs Grow Quickly

Long-term lease agreement means the city has eaten $4 million in costs since 2011.

By - Aug 8th, 2019 03:15 pm
Summerfest from the sky glider. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Summerfest from the sky glider. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Making sure Summerfest is safe is getting more and more expensive and city residents are shouldering a growing amount of that burden.

The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) spent $813,000 on securing Summerfest and directing traffic in the surrounding neighborhood this year. Summerfest’s cost? $134,392 plus its annual rent payment.

Summerfest operator Milwaukee World Festival, Inc (MWF) and the city, which through Port Milwaukee owns the land Summerfest occupies, have a lease agreement that runs through 2030. The festival, which subleases the grounds to other festivals, will pay $1,475,000 to rent the 75-acre park this year.

The long-term agreement requires the non-profit to make an annual rent payment to the city as well as a supplemental service payment for “public safety services.” The latter was added via a 2009 amendment negotiated when MWF had sought long-term lease certainty as part of improving the grounds. Both payments increase on a set schedule of three percent annually through 2021 with the supplemental fee growing to a five percent annual increase for the last five years of the lease.

But the city’s policing costs have grown at a rate far greater than three percent annually. Since 2011, the city’s policing costs have increased by 159 percent. Since 2011, the earliest year for which the city released data, MPD has spent $5.75 million on Summerfest. Over that same period, MWF sent the city $1,077,739 for public safety.

In a statement, MWF said it is covering MPD’s annual expenses and complying with the terms of its lease. “The City of Milwaukee determines how MWF’s annual rent payment is allocated. Milwaukee Police Department costs associated with safely operating Summerfest should be covered by MWF’s annual rent payment,” said a festival spokesperson via email.

“There’s an unfairness here and the unfairness has a very negative impact on the taxpayers of the city of Milwaukee,” said Mayor Tom Barrett Thursday afternoon in response.

“I don’t buy the notion that paying rent is equivalent to paying for security costs, those are two separate issues,” said the Mayor. He said the festival occupies valuable real estate in the city and the lease payment is based on that, not the cost of public safety.

Barrett said agreements the city has with the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks to provide security at Miller Park and Fiserv Forum respectively are more equitable.

The teams effectively rebate the cost of MPD staffing at the end of the year. City budget director Dennis Yaccarino told the Board of Harbor Commissioners Thursday morning that the Brewers paid approximately $1.1 million for security in 2018, with the Bucks paying approximately $330,000 for the 2018-2019 season. But those agreements are short term and based on annual estimates.

But why is the cost increasing so quickly? “The increase can be attributed to a combination of many factors, including additional officers being deployed, the addition of bomb technicians and the increase in officer salaries, which most notably drives the overtime salaries,” said MPD chief of staff Nick DeSiato via email to Urban Milwaukee. “The deployment level and strategy is based on the evolution of policing over the last several years, highlighted by a series of mass shootings at large events both nationally and internationally.”

Assistant Chief Michael Brunson told the board that MPD regularly meets with MWF and adjusts its plans based on local and national information. MPD also works with Summerfest’s own security team. “They’ve increased their capacity over the years,” said Brunson.

Cost aside, the commissioners praised MPD’s efforts. “Your department every year does an absolutely outstanding job in terms of both security and keeping traffic moving, giving that sense of protection that more and more people are concerned about,” said Commissioner and Historic Third Ward business improvement district chair Ron San Felippo.

DeSiato and Yaccarino told the port board that MPD is incurring greater costs than just the direct impact of securing the festival and directing traffic nearby. “They have to redeploy personnel and they have to backfill,” said Yaccarino. DeSiato said that additional overtime costs were occurred in other districts because of short staffing with officers directed towards Summerfest and the increased volume of violent crime in the summer. Members of the Board of Harbor Commissioners pushed for MPD to prepare an estimate of those costs going forward.

Yaccarino said one of the challenges facing the city is that the city does not have its own sales tax. The large crowds and out-of-town visitors at Summerfest merit security, but don’t provide the city with a direct revenue stream.

The MPD cost report comes as a regularly scheduled update to the Port Milwaukee board, but teases at what is likely to be another difficult budget debate for the city. Barrett is scheduled to unveil his executive budget in late September.

“I love Summerfest and we want Summerfest to be successful,” said Barrett. He said he would be approaching MWF to address the growing costs.

Other festivals don’t have nearly the financial impact on the police department. DeSiato said the department will spend a total of $70,000 on all of the other lakefront festivals.

The Milwaukee Police Department has an approximately $300 million budget in 2019.

Is The City Alone?

“Why should it just be the City of Milwaukee that has to carry the major load of this?” asked Alderman and Commissioner Mark Borkowski.

Turns out, it’s not. Milwaukee County also contributes property tax dollars towards services around Summerfest.

The Milwaukee County Transit System incurred a $602,000 cost related to Summerfest in 2018 according to a system spokesperson. The system provides over 10,000 daily rides to the 11-day festival, which generates plenty of revenue, but has to cope with the need to provide much of that service in a small window.

While the buses run full in one direction, they run effectively empty in the other. A substantial amount of staff overtime costs are incurred to provide the festival service. As a result, county officials have proposed scaling back or eliminating the service in various proposals in the past year.

Brunson said the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, which regularly has a highly visible deputy parked on the Hoan Bridge during the festival, works with the city. “It’s not just us,” said the Assistant Chief.

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Categories: City Hall

3 thoughts on “City Hall: Milwaukee Losing As Summerfest Safety Costs Grow Quickly”

  1. Aging Millennial says:

    I’m disappointed in the narrative around Summerfest in Milwaukee. Now even my favorite news publication has to run a headline that turn readers against what is arguably one of crown gems of Milwaukee and Wisconsin at large. Economic impact of the Port of Milwaukee? $106.5 Million. Economic impact of Summerfest? $187 Million on Milwaukee, $220 Million on Wisconsin. The comparisons could go on between job creation and the narrow industries served by the port. Valuable real estate? The land that Summerfest occupies was never ‘land’ to begin with, for one. Second it was an abandoned Nike missile site when Summerfest came along. Third, I’m not sure I’d call the land adjacent to MMSD ‘valuable’. I’m curious to know how Milwaukee would better use the 75 acre strip sans the millions of dollars of improvements that MWF and their sponsors have made to it over the years (particularly because I don’t believe it can be sold for non-public use).

    The topic at hand has less to do with Summerfest/MWF and more to do with the changing nature of security surrounding large scale events. It’s inconsistent to compare a sprawling open venue like Summerfest to a contained space like Fiserv Forum. Not to mention, Summerfest, unlike the Brewers or the the Bucks, is not owned by a few wealthy men, nor does it exist solely to benefit those men and the next 10 highest paid men on each respective team. Milwaukee (like all other cities) is being robbed by franchised sports while being told it’s not doing enough to keep them there (a debate for a different day, as I’m not suggesting we should get rid of the Bucks or the Brewers).

    To Yaccarino’s point, IMO this issue is really a story that’s part of the larger narrative of Milwaukee not being treated fairly by the state of Wisconsin in terms of shared services revenue, as well as not having its own taxing authority. 75% of Summerfest’s attendees come from the 10-county Great Milwaukee Area. Do those counties pay MPD’s bill?

    Why is there not something of a Security & Services Fest TIF to help the city collect revenue in the areas most affected by the annual event? Applicable on the Grounds and surrounding areas? I’m definitely not suggesting that the MPD and thus the City should just “suck it up” in terms of the annual bill. I just think it’s downright lazy to suggest that Summerfest, a non-profit created by the City of Milwaukee with a year-round staff of 40 books the world’s largest music festival (with entertainment and facilities higher in quality than any large scale, Woodstock-esque festival put on by for-profit companies that charge $400 for a GA ticket, three days of music camping and porta-potties, mind you), is causing the City of Milwaukee to “lose”. Summerfest is about as equitable and accessible as you can get in terms of an event of its size and stature of its entertainment line up. It has a net positive impact on the City and the State. Milwaukee should have the authority for its own taxation, just as it should have a fair deal from the State of Wisconsin in other revenue matters.

    Like many things in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we do not cherish this unique event as we should. It appears that’s why my personal favorite ethnic festival, Indian Summer, is not returning this year. These events don’t gain visitors when the local media run headlines that keep them away from the lakefront. I know it attracts a small fraction the attendees of MWF, but why are costs of the July 3rd fireworks not presented in a similar fashion? Did the Brewers pay the county employees OT on the 4th of July to clean up the mess left by campers as well as the Sheriff’s bill? Or did they just pay Bartolotta (or whoever did the fireworks this year)? Do I pay for the protection of a Walworth county camper and the clean up of its dumped blackwater in Veteran’s park in my county taxes? Milwaukee County losing as July 3rd fireworks slob costs grow quickly…

  2. just1paul says:

    If this keeps up MWF will move Summerfest to another city. The times have changed Mayor. Don’t be a prick, accept what Summerfest does for this city.

  3. Carl Schwartz says:

    MWF stands for MILWAUKEE World Festival Inc. for a reason: Name another city that has a festival grounds as perfect as Milwaukee’s. If the Bucks and Brewers can turn a profit paying the city fairly for its services so can MWF.

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