City's fees may kill off Latino gala


The Latino Festival, which has flooded Fells Point with the sounds of salsa for 13 years, may bid Baltimore adios next month if the city doesn't reduce the $4,000 in fees that it proposes to charge the organizers.

The East Baltimore Latino Organization (EBLO), the group sponsoring the June 5-6 festival, had already agreed to move this year's festival to Hopkins Plaza from Fells Point because of the waterfront neighborhood's concerns about loud music and outdoor drinking at night.

But in a letter this week to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the group tTC said it could not afford to pay $4,000 in city fees for electrical wiring, trash cleanup and booth rental -- 10 times more than last year. The letter, signed by Jose Ruiz, EBLO's president, offered to pay $600.

If the fees aren't reduced, the festival might be forced to shut down, says David Cruz, EBLO vice president. He says the event normally makes only about $3,000 in profit.

Profits from the festival, EBLO's sole annual fund-raiser, finance a Saturday morning reading and math tutorial program for about 45 Hispanic children at a Canton church.

"What we're interested in is the well-being of these kids. Someday they'll be city taxpayers," Mr. Cruz says.

Mari B. Ross, an assistant to the mayor, says the city was doing everything it could to keep Latino Festival fees to "an absolute minimum." Last year, she says, Mayor Schmoke agreed to split the festival fees with EBLO, but warned the group to prepare to pay more this year.

"To draw a line in the sand and say, 'If you don't give us what we want, we won't have a festival,' doesn't help them and it doesn't help us," Ms. Ross says.

After much debate, the city began charging all festival sponsors increased fees Jan. 1. Mayor Schmoke says the city can't afford to subsidize the events as heavily as in the past.

Facing the jump in costs, the March of Dimes Walk-a-Thon moved to the suburbs after 22 years in the city. The St. Patrick's Day parade threatened to pull out of the city but relented after negotiating a better deal with the administration.

But Ms. Ross contends that the city's festival life is still rich, noting that her office had received 300 applications for permits to use city streets and lots so far this year.

Officials left open the possibility that Latino Festival fees could still be reduced. The city has proposed to charge EBLO nearly $1,700 for electrical wiring, $1,625 for sanitation and about $700 for hauling booths.

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