Annapolis stuck with the bill Walk, run, march: Taxpayers in the state capital are subsidizing events whose costs should be shared.


ANNAPOLIS is rightly tired of being stuck with the costs associated with the scores of parades, demonstrations and benefit boat races held in the state capital.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson is exploring ways to recoup the $100,000 or more that the city spends yearly to cover costs that aren't reimbursed by the event sponsors for police and cleanups.

Mayor Johnson's task won't be easy. Annapolis' effort to balance its books runs into problems with the fundamental constitutional right to assemble and petition the government. The city could probably make a case that every time people march on Lawyers' Mall at the foot of the State House, Annapolis taxpayers pick up the bill for police overtime. But assessing these groups a fee would have an intolerable chilling effect on their right to demonstrate.

State government should pay for costs associated with marches held during the General Assembly's 90-day session. It is much more equitable that all Maryland taxpayers bear the burden of these demonstrations than just 35,000 Annapolitans. The General Assembly allocates money for state police for such occasions, but not for city police.

For other events, such as the foot races or walks that benefit good causes, the city needs a consistent policy, which it now lacks. Most of these benefits raise money. Some of it should be paid to the city for the cost of closing streets, providing power and cleaning up. Asking the city to waive the fee is, in a sense, asking city taxpayers to contribute to the event. Sponsors should pay a minimal fee, as they pay for other services and materials.

Even events such as First Night Annapolis on New Year's Eve should be included in this policy. Producers pay rent to a theater owner; so too should First Night cover the city's costs for turning streets and parks into stages.

Under the current arrangement, city taxpayers shoulder costs that belong to others. Annapolitans should not be stuck with the bill for everyone's parties.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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