City places a fee on festivals


The price of holding an outdoor event or festival in Baltimore City is going up. As of Jan. 1, many of the municipal services that the city has previously provided free of charge will carry a price tag. The larger the event, the higher the price is likely to be.

"This is really the other shoe dropping," says Mari B. Ross, chairperson of the city's inter-departmental events committee, referring to Baltimore's precarious fiscal situation. "We have been forestalling this as long as we possibly could."

We can well understand the city's need to bring unessential costs under control. The number of outdoor events using either public street spaces or park land has mushroomed over the past two decades. Some events that started small have become so successful they are now about to burst.

At the same time, it should not be forgotten that such annual events as the City Fair (now deceased), Fells Point Fun Festival and Artscape helped transform Baltimore and its residents' and outsiders' view of it. Any move that would kill these golden geese would be foolhardy -- particularly at a time when the city is again taking knocks on its reputation.

For this reason, we urge the Schmoke administration to be reasonable and creative in making sure that the new service fee schedule intended to become effective in January will not spell a death sentence to festivals and events important for Baltimore's atmosphere and its residents' morale.

We live in a closely linked state and metropolitan area: every festival which leaves the city in rancor is likely to produce die-hard activists throughout the region who are less sympathetic to Baltimore and its many special requirements. Yet in these difficult times the city needs every friend it can get.

Letters about the policy change insist that "beyond securing the equipment and permits necessary to insure the health and safety of their participants, most small neighborhood events generally should not incur additional costs for staging a successful event." Rather, the letters say, the city hopes to get more cost-participation from larger -- and more commercial -- events and festivals. "We can't demand that the mayor hold the line on taxes and absorb costs that are not essential to the city," says Ms. Ross.

The forthcoming policy changes and fees will force many organizers to make hard decisions. Unless they can find sponsors to take care of some of the expenses, they may have to scale down their events or otherwise adjust them. Some free events may have to start charging an admission fee. We urge the Schmoke administration to be flexible enough so that no important events are lost.

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