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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- City Hall: Summerfest, City Strike Deal On Police Costs - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 24th, 2021
- City Hall: City’s Permit Could Charge Summerfest - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 24th, 2020
- Murphy’s Law: Summerfest Flush With Cash - Bruce Murphy - Feb 4th, 2020
- City Hall: Summerfest Squeezed on Police Costs? - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 29th, 2020
- Murphy’s Law: Summerfest Pays No Net Rent - Bruce Murphy - Nov 26th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Should Summerfest Pay Higher Rent? - Bruce Murphy - Nov 14th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Summerfest CEO Awarded $2.33 Million - Bruce Murphy - Nov 8th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Summerfest Blows Off City Meeting - Bruce Murphy - Nov 7th, 2019
- City Hall: Milwaukee Losing As Summerfest Safety Costs Grow Quickly - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 8th, 2019
Read more about Summerfest File here