Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Summerfest Squeezed on Police Costs?

Alderman threatens to delay street closure permit if Summerfest won't pay city's costs.

By - Jan 29th, 2020 02:12 pm
Summerfest from the sky glider. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Summerfest from the sky glider. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Alderman Robert Bauman has identified a strategy to attempt to make Summerfest organizers cover the full cost of policing the 11-day event.

Bauman, as the area’s representative, is using his power to object to Milwaukee World Festival‘s application for a special event permit for road closures to host the festival. Under city ordinance, the organization will need to appeal to the Common Council’s Licenses Committee to receive the necessary permit.

“It is certainly not my intent as objector to prevent Summerfest from taking place,” said Bauman at a Wednesday morning meeting of the Public Works Committee. But he does want Summerfest, which he said is increasingly operating as a private entity instead of a public-private partnership, to pay its fair share.

Milwaukee Police Department officials reported in August its costs related have reached over $800,000 annually as large festivals require an escalating security presence in the wake of high-profile shootings.

“Hopefully Summerfest will do the right thing and approach us about approving an operating agreement like the marathon did,” said Bauman. “Or maybe they want the fight, it’s unclear at this point. I’ll take my chances with the council on that.”

The Milwaukee Marathon has an operating plan with the city that requires the operators to pay approximately $72,000 to offset the city’s full costs in securing the event across seven aldermanic districts. Summerfest is scheduled to pay approximately $46,000 said Bauman.

Milwaukee World Festival (MWF) does make an annual rent payment to lease the Henry Maier Festival Grounds from the city and, as part of a 2009 lease extension, also makes a supplemental security payment. But the growth of that security payment is far below the growth of the city’s policing costs.

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 2019 it paid $1,475,000 to rent the 75-acre park, for which it is responsible for capital improvements, but it is also able to sublease the grounds to other festivals.

Department of Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske said he would notify Summerfest of Bauman’s objections and its appeal rights. The alderman said his move is designed to encourage Summerfest to come to the bargaining table.

MPD representatives have confirmed that the city and MWF continue to meet on the matter.

Bauman’s move found support from Ald. Mark Borkowski after the meeting. “Maybe Summerfest has a lease for the grounds, but that and $11 will get you a Miller Lite at the Fiserv Forum,” said Borkowski in a statement. “They’re not going to have a festival without permits, and I support holding up those permits until they stop screwing Milwaukee taxpayers over the cost of police protection.”

When asked to comment on Bauman’s objection to the festival’s special events permit, Milwaukee World Festival responded via email:

“Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. is in conversations with the Milwaukee Police Department surrounding plans for 2020 and looks forward to another successful Summerfest.”

Other Permitting Changes

The move comes as Bauman has introduced a proposal to amend the city’s special event permitting process. A new class, AA, would regulate events longer than two days and requiring more than 150 hours of MPD and Department of Public Works staff time.

The proposal, which wasn’t voted on Wednesday, would waive fees for class AA in exchange for requiring organizers to pay the “actual hourly cost for police and public works services as documented by the chief of police and commissioner of public works.” The model would more closely reflect agreements governing Fiserv Forum and Miller Park where the Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers reimburse MPD and the Milwaukee Fire Department for on-site costs.

Bauman said the City Attorney’s office has been involved in drafting the ordinance.

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Related Legislation: File 191574

One thought on “City Hall: Summerfest Squeezed on Police Costs?”

  1. Jhenry1131 says:

    Great idea! I rarely agree with Ald. Bauman, but this will hopefully get Summerfest to help pay their share of the expense. We are laying off Police Officers because the City can’t afford it while Summerfest rakes in money and grossly overpays it’s CEO!

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