As the city grapples with more fiscal instability, mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration is attempting to force parade organizers to pay 100-percent of police and public works overtime incurred by the city during a procession sparking a small protest from the organizers of the city’s Dominican Day Parade on Wednesday night.
“All the other parades passed. Why does it have to be us?” said Elsa Mantilla, president of Desfile Dominicano, the group that puts on the Dominican Day Parade every September. She said it’s unfair for the city to start forcing organizers to pay 100-percent of the parade security and clean-up expenses six weeks before the parade takes place.
Parade organizers are expected to pay 30-percent of police and public works costs this year as part of an ordinance that was passed last year to shift security and clean-up costs to organizers.
The city would cover 70-percent of the expenses under the ordinance it put in place last year. Torres’ administration wants to bring the subsidy to zero so as to force parade organizers to pay 100-percent of the cost.
Law director Domenick Stampone said an ordinance before the city council will eliminate the subsidy given to parade organizers. Prior to last year, organizers did not pay security or clean-up expenses incurred by the municipality.
The goal of the ordinance was to eventually make parade organizers pay 40-percent of the expenses incurred by police and public works in parades.
Mantilla said the parade is now in limbo because the city has not provided a number as to how much her organization has to be. Her parade’s application is before the city council and expected to be voted on in mid-August.
She said the city is putting the parade at risk. She said the organization has contracted with vendors and risks being the subject of lawsuits if the city’s actions results in the cancellation of the parade. “We’re going to get sued,” said Mantilla.
“We’re in a very difficult financial position,” said business administrator Nellie Pu. She said the administration is aiming to cut overtime expenses by $2 million. The Dominican Day Parade, one of the largest in the city which has been taking place for 27 years, incurs more than $100,000 in police and public works overtime costs.
Mantilla said the city is unfairly targeting her group’s parade. She said the Peruvian Day Parade passed without having to cover 100-percent of the security and clean-up costs, but now the city wants her group to suddenly pay more.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Mantilla. She said she feels the city is discriminating against the Dominican-American community.
Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, said it’s “impossible” for the group to raise all of this funds in six weeks. He suggested the city change the way it handles parades by deploying public works employees like the way it is done in Clifton.
Mendez said Clifton public works employees show up before the parade to setup the barricades and return after the parade to clean-up to keep overtime expenses under control. He said city workers stand at the parade route throughout the duration of the parade which pushes up expenses.
Mendez also said the city should use special police officers to cut costs. Pou said there’s only 21 part-time specials on the force.
Some council members suggested reducing the route of the parade – at present the parade runs for 17 blocks on Park Avenue.
“Let’s not be shortsighted,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. He said parades attract thousands of people to the city and provides a boost to businesses throughout the municipality. It also provides positive news coverage of the city.
“It’s a typical way to oppress people to get the tax levy from us,” said Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman. “You hurt the community one way to get us to vote another way.”
Velez got into a heated exchange with Pou over the parade as he levied attacks against the mayor.
“You don’t think we should be reducing the budget?” asked an infuriated business administrator.
Velez blamed the mayor for go after the parades to put community pressure on council members, who three times rejected the mayor’s preliminary tax levy delaying tax bills for August. Council members took a fourth vote on Thursday at 1 a.m. and approved a reduced tax levy to get tax bills out.
The old ordinance will remain in place until the council decides to amend or approve a new one, said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. The parade subsidy elimination ordinance will be up for a vote during the council’s regular meeting on Aug. 16, 2016.
The Dominican Day Parade organizers successfully sued the city when it refused to provide security and clean-up in 2011. “We went to court four years ago, if we have to, we will again,” said Mantilla.
Email: [email protected]