Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City needs policy for public events

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There should have been no rude surprise to the organizers of the Manitoba Marathon, who last year at the 11th hour learned the vaunted public event would be on the hook for a policing bill upwards of $20,000. It was the first time the Marathon had heard the Winnipeg Police Service had a policy of recouping costs in providing traffic control at the 26-mile run to raise funds to improve the lives of people living with intellectual disabilities. Not on.

The WPS found it within its resources to cover the tab last year. This year, again at the 11th hour, it agreed to bill the Manitoba Marathon for a fraction of the cost of policing the Father's Day event. The decision came after the organizers went cap in hand to city hall, seeking the help of council. What about next year?

This is an issue for all non-profit groups holding public events; the WPS two years ago gave notice it could not afford to shoulder the costs of police coverage for traffic or other duties at events on city streets.

Coun. Brian Mayes has offered to help cover the Manitoba Marathon's bill this year, expected to be in the range of $2,500, not $20,000. The WPS plans to use cadets (cheaper by the hour) and officers on duty, rather than paying off-duty police overtime. This reasonable alternative ought to have been the routine for all parades, events and rallies that demand crowd and traffic control.

Coun. Mayes is generous with his office's per-capita grant, but that is not the way to support public events that make the city more livable. Arbitrary decision-making makes for uneven application of generosity that holds to broad guidelines -- tax-supported grants are to be spent on good works in the community, generally speaking. One group being turned down might wonder at the luck of the group that wins favour with a councillor.

The Manitoba Marathon, for its part, says it is the city's premier public event of the year, and given the expense involved in covering its bills -- other city departments are involved, as street signage, for example, is required -- it deserves special consideration for publicly funded support.

But the organization also has substantial resources. Last year, it brought in $113,722 from pledges and donations; total revenue, including sponsorships, bequests and registration fees, totalled more than $919,000. It has room for higher costs, but organizers make the legitimate point that this would mean higher registration fees -- they work hard at keeping administrative and operational costs down to ensure maximum grants to service organizations for the disabled.

This is no way for the city to manage its interest in public events. The WPS should have one rule for recouping costs, but it should flow from a uniform policy written by the city for recovering or absorbing costs when non-profit groups hold public events that involve city services and responsibilities. There can be room for giving a break to some groups, due to size or other considerations, but exceptions should be publicly explained and defended at council. As it is, exceptions are arbitrary and taxpayers have no good idea how their money is being spent.

This is a city issue. Mayor Sam Katz and council should do a bit of research on the practice in other municipalities and write a policy for Winnipeg.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2014 A12

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