Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Summerfest, City Strike Deal On Police Costs

Costs had climbed to more than $800,000 annually for MPD, but festival paid for little of it.

By - Jun 24th, 2021 07:00 pm
Summerfest from the sky glider. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Summerfest from the sky glider. Photo by Alison Peterson.

The City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Police Department and Summerfest have a new agreement to cover the rising security costs associated with the music festival.

The deal will place the festival on the same terms as the Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers, which reimburse the city for their police and fire personnel costs.

Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., which hosts Summerfest, already has an agreement to lease the 75-acre festival grounds from the city that runs through 2030 and, since a 2009 amendment, that includes a supplemental public safety payment.

But costs for MPD to secure the festival have grown 159% since 2011 to $813,000. MPD attributes the rising costs to deploying more officers in response to mass shootings as well as rising salaries and evolving strategies. Yet MWF was scheduled to pay only $143,960 in 2021, an amount that increases 3% annually under the contract, for public safety.

Mayor Tom Barrett and other city officials went on the offensive in 2019 to get the organization to address the growing financial gap.

“There’s an unfairness here and the unfairness has a very negative impact on the taxpayers of the city of Milwaukee,” said Barrett in 2019. “I don’t buy the notion that paying rent is equivalent to paying for security costs, those are two separate issues.”

But MWF insisted its lease payment covered the cost. “Milwaukee Police Department costs associated with safely operating Summerfest should be covered by MWF’s annual rent payment,” the festival said.

The council, led by Alderman Robert Bauman, adopted a revised special event permitting process that was designed, in part, to be a backdoor way to address the issue.

Then the pandemic hit and the issue, at least publicly, went on the backburner. There was no Summerfest in 2020.

“The Milwaukee Police Department has been in conversation for multiple years with Summerfest on this,” said MPD chief of staff Nick DeSiato on Thursday to members of the Public Safety & Health Committee. “I think [MWF] would agree, if we had Summerfest last year, we would have been here about this time.”

A safety plan developed between the two entities calls for Summerfest to have its own security team with support in and around the festival park from MPD officers working “extra duty.” MPD officers working their normal shifts also provide support as needed.

Sponsored by Alderman Michael Murphy, the new agreement will have MWF pay for the costs of any “extra duty” personnel, officers working extra shifts, assigned to the event. The costs range from $61.50 per hour for an officer to $80.71 per hour for a lieutenant.

The festival now has a new head of security intimately familiar with the MPD operation. Retired MPD police captain Derrick Harris is now the security director.

DeSiato praised Harris in his remarks to the committee, as did MWF general counsel and chief administrative officer Frank Nicotera.

Nicotera also thanked Murphy for pushing for the agreement.

An addendum to the agreement gives MWF a credit for the amount it is scheduled to pay with the existing public safety fee.

“The point of the addendum is so Summerfest isn’t being double charged,” said DeSiato.

The agreement is in effect only for the 2021 festival, which is scheduled to run on three consecutive weekends for the first time, September 2nd-4th, 9th-11th and 16th-18th.

Ald. Mark Borkowski thanked Murphy, but raised concern that the ethnic festivals would be charged.

“I have had a couple of conversations with a couple of different ethnic festivals and that seems to be their interpretation,” said the alderman.

Nicotera and DeSiato said the agreement does not cover other festivals that sub-lease the grounds from Summerfest.

The scale of those events leads to less police costs. In 2019, MPD estimated spending $70,000 combined securing all of the other festivals at the grounds.

But Borkowski is concerned about them. “They have to pay for a lot of different things down on those grounds,” he said. “There are some festivals that are financially at the cusp of saying ‘it’s just not worth it anymore.'”

“If they exceeded $50,000 [in security costs], they would go before you,” said DeSiato of the individual events.

Ald. Scott Spiker praised acting police chief Jeffrey Norman and DeSiato for getting the agreement done. “It’s good to have a lawyer not just as the chief, but the chief of staff,” he said.

The cost of policing is a significant one for the cash-strapped city. State laws restrict its ability to raise revenues, including from events within city limits. The large crowds at Summerfest need security, but the city doesn’t receive a corresponding increase in revenue to cover the cost because it doesn’t have its own sales tax. The income tax revenue that would flow to the city through state shared revenue has been cut, adjusted for inflation, by more than $100 million per year since 2003.

The committee endorsed the agreement on a 4-1 vote with Borkowski in opposition.

The full Common Council is scheduled to review the agreement at its July 7th meeting.

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Related Legislation: File 210338

One thought on “City Hall: Summerfest, City Strike Deal On Police Costs”

  1. blurondo says:

    “The income tax revenue that would flow to the city through state shared revenue has been cut, adjusted for inflation, by more than $100 million per year since 2003.”

    And this will continue with the current make up of the State Legislature and their drive to undermine the stability of the city.

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