OSWEGO — For the last two summers, the city of Oswego has waived its $150 road-closure fee for the Mugs and Motors event run by Taste the World owner Anne Backer.
On Monday, Backer again asked the Oswego city council for support, saying the event has drawn more locals and visitors — and more wild rides — each year, with car lovers driving more than 70 miles to line up and show off among friends and visitors along West First Street.
"A lot of money is paid out to support the community," Backer said, referencing $500 in insurance costs and $1,800 in music expenses. "I'm just asking the city to waive [the street-closure fee] to support this event." But councilors, facing a tough fiscal year, have rallied around evaluating fee waivers event by event.
"We've kind of drawn a line in the sand," Council Vice President Rob Corradino, R-7th Ward, said, though he noted he attended and enjoyed Mugs and Motors multiple times over the last two years.
Ever since the initial proposal of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, there have been multiple debates over the last several weeks regarding what constitutes a "community event" so impactful to the Port City's quality of life that an investment from the city, in the form of a fee waiver or covering overtime costs, is warranted.
Councilor Nate Emmons, R-3rd Ward, said he'd back the event proposal through the Oswego Physical Services Committee, but over the course of the next week he wanted to talk with Backer and "explore options," adding he was not inclined to "waive the fee altogether." Emmons asked whether the event could be held elsewhere, but Backer said the goal was to promote the downtown area where the event has been the last two years.
Heathe Jones of Cre8 Studios spoke in support of Backer, saying she found it "disturbing" that the "downtown councilor" would suggest a location other than downtown for the event.
Emmons responded that it's "an accepted practice" for business owners and event organizers to have to weigh benefits versus overall costs, including many fees — fees officials argue have been waived for far too long at taxpayers' expense.
"I refuse to sit here as a councilor and have folks poke at us and say that we're going to destroy this or move things out of downtown," he said. "We have a job to represent the taxpayers as best as we possibly can and ask the questions that are appropriate in front of this committee." Jones argued Backer's free event was purely a benefit to the community, not a profit-driver, and therefore, she said, the council should show more willingness to invest in it.
Backer says without the waiver — which comes to a total of $900, with six total events through June, July and August — it's unlikely the event will go on.
But Corradino pointed out that Cre8 Studios said much the same thing about the St. Patrick's Day Parade, with the event company requesting some city investment in the form of overtime and sanitation, which the council denied.
"Through social media, they were able to raise funds and have the parade," Corradino noted.
Resident Miles Becker said the council seemed to be giving a hard time to entrepreneurs like Backer, especially at a time when the city just spent $14 million on consent decree projects.
"She's going to put the energy into this project," Becker said. "Anybody that has this kind of energy in this city that wants to put on an event like this, my God don't hold them back." Councilor John Gosek, R-5th Ward, said while he thought the event was great for the city, he agreed with Emmons that it was the council's job to look at ways to save money and be as fair as possible.
Councilor Eric Va n Buren, R-6th Ward, said come budget time councilors would need to look for significant cuts that fee waivers couldn't possibly approach no matter how much they add up to.
"This nickel and dime stuff is not going to get you there," he said, arguing the council needed to look creatively at union contract negotiations, for instance, rather than such event fees.
The event as drawn up in a resolution is scheduled for June 12 and 26, July 10 and 24, and Aug. 14 and 28. The full council will take up the issue on Monday.