Jeramey Jannene

Summerfest Will Pay Full Cost of Policing For Second Straight Year

After the issue came to a head in 2019, city is being compensated for securing festival.

By - May 19th, 2022 12:31 pm
People file out of Summerfest on the last night of the 2021 festival. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

People file out of Summerfest on the last night of the 2021 festival. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Common Council is poised to approve an agreement that will have Summerfest-host Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. (MWF) pay the full cost of police officers deployed in and around the festival.

In 2019, then-Mayor Tom Barrett and the council went on the offensive after policing costs jumped more than 150% in a decade. Milwaukee was spending more than $800,000 per year on police staffing, while MWF was making an annual security payment in addition to its grounds lease of approximately $140,000.

“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.”

The council, led by Alderman Robert Bauman, adopted a revised special event permitting process in 2020 that was designed, in part, as a backdoor way to address the issue. Then the pandemic intervened.

There was no 2020 festival, and the 2021 festival, the first under the new permitting process, took place in September with attendance falling 43% from 2019 levels.

The Milwaukee Police Department staffing cost for the 2021 festival was $518,759.99

The 2022 event isn’t quite “back to normal” with the event now spread over three weekends in June and July instead of an 11-day-straight block, but it will be the second straight event where MWF covers the full policing cost.

Summerfest will be sent an invoice based on the actual rate of pay for each assigned officer, with a series of per position maximums. MWF will pay a maximum of $65.25 per hour for each rank-and-file officer, $65.63 for each motorcycle officer, $74.51 for each supervisor (required for every three officers) and $82.32 for each lieutenant (required when two or more supervisors are required). In addition, MPD will add a 10% administrative fee to the final invoice. Each of the hourly rates is up slightly from the 2021 agreement.

MWF will receive a credit on the invoice in the amount of its supplemental security payment that is included in the base lease for the 75-acre Henry Maier Festival Park. That figure climbs by 3% annually and is set at $149,719 for 2022.

The model reflects pre-existing agreements governing Fiserv Forum and American Family Field where the Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers reimburse MPD and the Milwaukee Fire Department for on-site costs.

“We have a great relationship with the folks over at Summerfest,” said MPD chief of staff Nick DeSiato in presenting the 2022 agreement to the Public Safety & Health Committee Thursday morning.

Part of that is because there are a lot of familiar faces. The pending agreement was already signed by MWF’s Chief Administrative Officer Mary Schanning, a former city attorney, and the head of security is retired MPD captain Derrick Harris.

MWF maintains its own security staff, which includes running metal detectors and determining which patrons to remove. MPD officers are limited, by the contract, to performing only duties “of a law enforcement nature.” MPD’s role also includes traffic control in the surrounding area.

MWF maintains a lease through 2030 on the grounds. It is scheduled to pay $1,615,100 this year, plus the $149,719 supplemental lease payment. Over the life of the 30-year lease, MWF is to pay approximately $50.75 million for control of the property.

It subleases the grounds to other festivals, a point of contention for at least one alderman.

“Without getting into the minutiae, I don’t think Milwaukee World Festival has done enough,” said Alderman Mark Borkowski. He voted against the police cost recovery contract last year and said he would do so again this year. He said the ethnic festivals are barely staying afloat. At least one, Festa Italiana, will not take place this year.

MWF charges the festivals rent, but does not provide their security. Each festival, instead, must work with MPD.

“We deal individually with each of the ethnic festivals,” said DeSiato, who said they were treated fairly. In 2019, MPD officials estimated a cost of $70,000 to secure all of the other festivals at the grounds.

Council members Scott Spiker and JoCasta Zamarripa said they appreciated Borkowski’s protest vote, but wanted to make sure the city recovered its costs from Summerfest.

“We want to continue to be supportive of the small ethnic festivals that occur on Summerfest’s grounds,” said Zamarripa.

The cost of policing is a significant one for the cash-strapped city. State law restricts 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 full council is scheduled to consider the 2022 contract on June 1.

Summerfest is scheduled to take place June 23-25, June 30-July 2 and July 7-9.

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