After more than three years of back and forth, the city council on Tuesday evening narrowly approved an ordinance that will force parade organizers to shoulder some of the security and clean-up expenses the city incurs during a procession.
The phase-in ordinance will shift 20-percent of the public safety and public works costs to the organizers starting on July 1st, 2015. In 2016, the organizers will have to pay 30-percent of the cost. From 2017 onward, the organizers will pay 40-percent of the costs, according to the ordinance.
Though the organizers will pick up some of the costs, the majority of the expenses will still be paid by city taxpayers through subsidies. The ordinance puts in place a mechanism through which the organizers will be able to submit applications to the city seeking subsidies. The groups must show “documented” financial need before receiving the discounted rate of paying just 40-percent.
“The subsidy is not guaranteed,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He wants the parade organizers to provide the city with contracts, financial filings, and other documents to demonstrated “documented financial need.”
Council members witnessed a great deal of opposition against the ordinance from the city’s two largest parades: the Dominican and the Peruvian parades.
Carlos Tello, president of the Peruvian Parade, has been asking to see a formula that would be used to calculate the cost of the parade. As it stands parade organizers are not sure from what total amount they will be paying their percentage.
Business administrator Nellie Pou told Tello the city will figure those costs as it currently does through the length of the parade, the number of intersection it goes through, and the number of people in attendance.
There wasn’t any representatives from the city’s Dominican parade at the podium. However, there was one other group that opposed the fee.
“Since the Great Falls area has been declared a national park, Paterson is at a crucial turning point in increased tourist visitation. Please do not turn the clock back and threaten the chances of non-profits from hosting parades,” said Angelica Santomauro, director of the American Labor Museum, which hosts the annual Labor Day Parade.
She said the city benefits from the inflow of people who patronize local businesses. She implored council members to vote against an ordinance that forces parade organizers to share the clean-up and security costs incurred by the city.
“In the long run it will hurt the local economy,” said Santomauro.
Morris said the city has little choice but to enact the parade ordinance because the state has repeatedly mandated the city charge a reasonable fee to defray the overtime cost in both police and public works.
“We have the proverbial gun to our head,” said Morris. He said the state provides the city with millions of dollars in financial assistance which it cannot afford to lose by shirking on the responsibilities it agrees to when it accepts those funds. This year the state awarded the city $25 million.
“If we don’t move this ordinance, we will have severely jeopardized that aid,” said Morris. He addressed some of the organizers who filled one side of the city council chamber explaining that the mayor wanted to charge them 40-percent from the beginning, but the council has considerably reduced that amount and added in a phase-in approach.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres reduced the rate from 40-percent to 30-percent after parade groups said the fee was excessive. Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, with the blessings of the administration, proposed a 20-percent fee for this year and 10-percent phase-in each subsequent year until the organizers take on 40-percent of the cost.
“At this time we can no longer have this burden on the city of Paterson,” said Davila.
The ordinance passed with a 5-3 vote. Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman; Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman; and Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, voted against the ordinance.
“I believe parades produce positive outcomes for Paterson,” said Sayegh. “They generate revenue for restaurants and retail components. They also help us garner positive press for the city as well.”
Voting in favor of the ordinance were Davila, Morris, William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, James Staton, 1st Ward councilman, and Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman.
“The cost to the city is one that we can no longer bear entirely,” said McKoy. “It’s a necessary step and it allows everybody to shoulder their portion of the expenditure.”
Morris and Staton said the parades should figure out a way to raise more funds through sponsorships and other manner in which they raise money.
“We love our parades, but we’re asking for help,” said Cotton.