How much does it cost?

How much does it cost taxpayers to help put on events in the city of Dunkirk? That is a question the Common Council is looking into through its Finance Committee.

At a meeting Monday the committee began a look at the issue, using one of the first requests of the season for assistance, as a place to start. Councilman Michael Michalski, who chairs the Finance Committee, said he began with the Tri Dunkirk triathlon because it was one of the first to apply this year.

“Please, I don’t want anyone thinking we’re picking on ScoreThis, they’re the organization that heads up the triathalon every summer here in Wright Park. … I asked fire, police and DPW what their estimate would be, what their experience in the past with this event as far as overtime goes,” Michalski added.

City Attorney Ron Szot asked if it covered just overtime as opposed to the regular time worked that would otherwise be allocated to other city things.

“It’s understating the actual costs involved to the city,” he added.

Michalski confirmed that he asked for overtime only. Numbers provided included an estimate of 14 hours of overtime at approximately $680 for the fire department; six hours between $300 to $350 for the police department and two to three hours of overtime for the Department of Public Works, which Michalski estimated at $200 depending on who does the work.

Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak pointed out that the union members each get two hours minimum when they report for overtime.

“If the whole point is just to come up with the idea of what the events are costing and you’re only looking at overtime, you’re not looking at how much is being diverted from other duties to focus on this. It’s a matter of deciding whether the tax dollars are being spent wisely for everyone,” she continued. “These events generate a lot of money. Some of them are just charity events, then you have the issue of if you were to ask people if they particularly want to sponsor this particular charity, then that’s not really generating any dollars but the charity is coming here and they’re asking to do something so I think it’s even more nuanced.”

Michalski replied that the overtime is the easier part of the equation, the revenue being generated in the community is also part of it.

“Let’s just stay with this event only, for special purposes. They’re people coming here, they’re eating here, perhaps staying overnight at the hotels, buying gas here,” he stated. “Things of that nature that somebody would do when they’re in town for a weekend. I know there’s estimates out there that this event brings so much economic benefit to this municipality … but to me those numbers always seem overinflated.”

Fiscal Affairs Officer Richard Halas said it was very subjective.

“Just take a look what we pay for marketing, advertising, look what we pay for even our services on the web and stuff like that. So how much is an event like this worth. Doesn’t this bring actually more?” Halas asked.

Michalski said the hard part is figuring out how much revenue an event generates. Kiyak pointed out that nothing is being charged right now. Szot said the triathlon brings in people from across the country as opposed to a more local-oriented event.

“You’re drawing people to benefit the charity but it’s almost a zero-sum game with the city,” Szot added, pointing out people who attend locally-based events generally come to the event and then go home.

Michalski said he doesn’t want to charge local groups like MADD DADDS or the city-supported Historical Society.

“We’re encouraging them to raise funds and be independent of the city but at the same time I don’t want to say we want you to do that but then we’re going to take ‘x’ number of dollars from you to have the event in the first place,” he added. ” … We’ve got something almost every single week going on here in the city and that’s great, you want a vibrant scene, an active city in the summertime. We’ve got that, that’s not a problem for us, we don’t need to find things for people to do. … You want to keep those things going too, but where do you draw the line as far as the overtime and the expense.”

Szot suggested City Clerk Nicole Joiner poll other municipalities to find out what fees, if any, they charge for events.

Kiyak asked for a count of how many events have occurred in each of the last three years, adding the triathlon is over $1,000 in overtime each year, not counting other personnel costs.

“Not everything is as big as this but in order to come to kind of a fair estimation of what direction to move in I think we need as many facts as possible. … Anything that is asking for help, closing off the streets, trash pickup, having extra security,” she explained. ” … We’re supposed to be the custodians of how money is being spent so we have an obligation to at least visit it and take a look at it and when we decide at least we’ve tried to come to a conclusion based on all the facts, and it’s not just that’s the cost of doing business. … We’re supposed to be making sure that money is being spent wisely. I think this is part of our due diligence in visiting this.”

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