Officials explore cost of emergency services at events in Concord
Ten days before this year’s annual Market Days Festival, organizers learned the Concord Fire Department would charge them $4,700 for emergency personnel coverage downtown.
That charge was unexpected, festival Director Kim Murdoch told the city’s public safety advisory board yesterday.
Murdoch spoke to the board as it considered a report from the fire department about coverage at special events. Board members raised concern yesterday about the consistency and cost of coverage, and they asked city officials to write a report detailing fees and expectations. They also requested that the city explore waiving fees for nonprofit groups.
The city’s police, code enforcement and general services departments also charge for event coverage.
Last month, the city council received a report from fire Chief Dan Andrus outlining his department’s year-old practice of charging for standby personnel and pre-event safety evaluations. Events requiring coverage include Intown Concord’s Halloween Howl and Midnight Merriment, the annual Rock ’n Race and other festivals.
“Even modest additional demand would quickly have the side effect of stripping resources from other areas of the city,” Andrus wrote in the report. “The recent Market Days celebration required 4½ hours of site inspection activity and generated ten emergency responses over its three day duration.”
After Councilors Jennifer Kretovic and Fred Keach asked for more information and discussion of the report, the council referred it to the public safety advisory board. Keach and Kretovic are both members of that board.
“In my mind, this is clearly a balancing act between cost and public safety,” Keach said yesterday. “One of the things I really want to see going forth, if possible, (is) that there are very clearly stated guidelines so it doesn’t seem arbitrary. . . . So a nonprofit, for instance, could look at the costs and see if they’re reasonable or not.”
Andrus said he began charging for fire inspectors and standby personnel last year. In some cases, it has made a difference; he said an inspector during a circus event this year noticed a tent begin to collapse and initiated an emergency response.
State law allows the department to charge for events without special approval from the city council, said Deputy City Solicitor Danielle Pacik.
“It’s really an argument that comes down to equity, that when an event creates extra demand that the financial burden for that is based on the event organizers,” Andrus told the board.
Andrus said standby personnel coverage costs $60.49 per hour, and police Chief John Duval said the hourly detail rate for a police cruiser is $17.
Intown Concord was able to work with the city and waive its fee and requirement for standby coverage at Market Days this year, said Operations Manager Liza Poinier. Murdoch said this was the first year the organization would have been charged for emergency coverage; it had previously been provided at no cost, and for the past several years no standby personnel were required at Market Days. (The Monitor is one of Intown Concord’s corporate sponsors.)
Murdoch said Intown Concord already paid more than $6,000 in police coverage at Market Days, and it “would have been lucky to break even” with its fundraising event if it had to find $4,700 for the fire department, Murdoch said.
But that coverage, which Andrus said is driven by state safety guidelines, will be required in the future. Also at issue yesterday was whether the city’s coverage costs are rising and whether they could drive events out of the city.
Board member and former city councilor Jim O’Neill said officials should consider providing event coverage at no cost to organizations.
“Main Street becomes more active when there’s more things going on for Main Street,” he said. “The Rock ’n Race, people come into the city for that event, which is a positive thing. . . . That’s what being a community, being part of a community, is all about. You want to promote people coming in to do events. You don’t want to dissuade them.”
Kretovic said she would like to see a better explanation from Andrus and other city officials, so organizations can understand the cost of hosting events.
“It seems like people are getting nickeled and dimed from the city on these multiple events,” she said.
Murdoch said she does not want to undermine public safety, but she has spoken to other event organizers who are worried about continuing to pay the city for coverage.
“Public safety is absolutely . . . our number one concern, so we want that to happen,” said Murdoch, who organizes several annual events. “And just to figure out how that can happen in a way that nonprofits in particular are able to continue producing these events in the city.”