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Waterfront Festival costly for Balto. Co., auditor says


Baltimore County's first Waterfront Festival cost about $16,000 more than it took in through donations, despite county officials' projections that the event is likely to net $25,000 for a relief fund for victims of Tropical Storm Isabel, according to an auditor's review.

The discrepancies between the auditor's findings and the county's final budget for the Oct. 2 festival in Middle River, billed as a celebration of east-side revitalization, came largely from omissions in the official accounting, according to a memo from County Auditor Brian J. Rowe to the County Council.

The budget did not include overtime - calculated by Rowe at more than $15,000 - or $17,500 in grant money from the county for the fireworks display and other costs, according to the memo, which also lists portable toilet rental ($580) and living-history interviews ($400) as "unreported expenses."

$10,000 not collected

With those expenses added, the festival cost about $69,000 - not the $28,000 listed in a county budget for the event - while taking in about $43,000 in donations, according to the memo and the Waterfront Festival budget. Another $10,000 has been pledged but not yet collected, according to both documents.

Rowe's accounting did not include work on "festival-related activities" performed by county employees using county equipment during work hours, according to the memo.

Robert J. Barrett, the county's Recreation and Parks Department director, said some expenses were not included in budget figures because they were seen "as a normal part of taking care of the county and constituents." Adding the expenses to the budget creates a "net loss, and I'm not in agreement with that," he said.

No matter what, he said, the disagreement over cost is not expected to affect how much money ultimately goes to Isabel victims, "unless the council or auditor directs us to take the money and pay the county back."

As donations came in, they were deposited into the relief fund administered by the Essex-Middle River-White Marsh Chamber of Commerce, Barrett said. Expenses were paid out of that money, he said, and once the remaining pledges come in there should be $25,000 left.

Information sought

Several council members said yesterday that they had not yet seen the memo, which Rowe said came out of questions from "at least two" council members. Others said they wanted more information.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said that with plans in the works to hold the event again, officials need to pay more attention to the financial end "to make sure that we're running in the black and not the red, so to speak."

But Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat, said the Waterfront Festival is "no different from any festival or community fair" for which the county provides support.

Seventh District Republican Del. Patrick L. McDonough, who sparred with County Executive James T. Smith Jr. over a decision not to allow booths with politicians as hosts at the festival, said he is planning to do his own digging into the finances.

'Re-election promotion'

"This is a taxpayer-financed, Jim Smith re-election promotion, the way I see it," said McDonough, who calls the event "Jimmyfest" and said the accounting discrepancies smack of a "cover-up."

But Smith's spokesman, Donald I. Mohler III, said the county government supports events throughout the county and that the Waterfront Festival, which drew more than 10,000 people, was "an outstanding success."

"The cost of doing business as a government is being supportive of communities," he said.

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