Council makes Lobster Festival pay for park use

By Larry Di Giovanni | May 13, 2014
Photo by: Larry Di Giovanni Following the Rockland City Council meeting May 12, Rockland Festival Corp. President Chuck Kruger discusses the festival's options moving forward.

Rockland — Citing budgetary concerns and a need for fairness across the board for all entities who pay fees, the Rockland City Council voted 4-1 Monday to rescind its park fees waiver totaling $14,250 for the Maine Lobster Festival.

During public comments, Rockland Festival Corp. President Chuck Kruger urged the council to reward the hard work of more than 1,000 festival volunteers whose efforts bring millions of dollars into the area economy. The non-profit festival gave more than $100,000 to charitable causes last year and should be viewed differently than for-profit events, he said.

The 67th Maine Lobster Festival is set for July 30 through Aug. 4. The $14,250 in fees cover seven days of setup at $250 per day and five days of parks rental at $2,500 per day in Harbor Park, Buoy Park and Mildred Merrill Park. There is also a $250 tear-down fee for one day, with one day of the fee waived.

“I understand that a vocal few complain to you constantly about traffic, parking problems, and other annoyances for those few days each year that we gum up your waterfront,” Kruger said. “But we cause millions of dollars to be spent in this community. And we could go away. That's not a threat, it's a reality. Our margins are not huge; sometimes they are barely there at all.”

Eric Hebert, the lone councilor who voted to keep the waiver in place, said he wears a fleece pull-over with a Maine Lobster Festival logo that is a source of pride recognized wherever he goes.

“The festival is a huge economic generator for this area,” Hebert said. "And I see the waiving of park fees as being an investment in that economic engine.”

However, Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson said what the city is asking for is “not a tremendous amount of money, and it is what's fair.” The city greatly appreciates the positive economic impact of the festival, she said, but at the same time, city leaders have the right to determine what fees are necessary and what they are used for.

Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf said it would be unfair to respond to “emotional passions” by waiving fees. Having all entities pay fees helps to avoid the “political quagmire” resulting from waivers, she said. Councilor Frank Isganitis said a healthy cash flow is needed to carry the city through lean times, while adding that the city gives up parks space to the festival, thereby making the parks' usage unavailable to others.

Kruger said all of the charitable causes the festival gives to more than justify the waivers.

“One year, we paved the public landing,” he said. “We repaired the middle pier. We bought the city of Rockland an ambulance. We helped buy the ladder truck for the fire department. When the Chamber of Commerce, the Owls Head Museum, and other local organizations got together to develop the Gateway Center, we provided major financial support. And it was, not so long ago, the Lobster Festival that came up with the money to create Merrill Park, thus preserving the last water view on Main Street from the south end to the ferry terminal.”

Festival Vice President John Jeffers said the festival gives to area scholarships and made a contribution to the school lunch program at Rockland District Middle School.

Long-time festival participant Alice Knight said the festival is what has placed Rockland on the map the past 67 years. “We are really better known, away from here, as The Maine Lobster Festival city, rather than just plain Rockland,” she said.

Following the council meeting, Kruger said the festival will go on, but its volunteer directors will have important decisions to make moving forward. He and Jeffers were not surprised by the 4-1 vote, as opposition to fee waivers by some businesses is vocal, they said.

Asked why the waiver was rescinded this year specifically, Dickerson said, “We are continuing to face severe economic difficulties in this state and city.” One of those difficulties is due to the loss of revenue sharing from the state, such as less sales tax revenue for each city and town, she said.

The city seeks a zero-based budget with negligible property tax increases, and the way to ensure that is to know what revenue is coming in, she added.

Courier Publications reporter Larry Di Giovanni can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at ldigiovanni@villagesoup.com.

Comments (6)
Posted by: AL Hooper | May 14, 2014 15:33

I think we ought to remember we are a town that welcomes when we have all these nonprofit organizations give up there time at no cost to the city to put on events that brings in money to local business who pay out taxes to be there. you keep pushing to many buttons and you can still have events but  at what cost to the city to pay for the people to put the event on. and not bring in revenue and lose business to other town who do. Figured you would learned after chasseing companies and businesses  to other towns.



Posted by: Jeanette Marie Lombardo | May 13, 2014 21:09

The Lobster Festival brings far more than $14,000 to the City of  Rockland. All of our small businesses benefit from the Festival, not just Rockland but our surrounding communities as well. This festival is not getting rich by any means and they give back to our community in many ways. Come on council members....... look at the big picture... do not charge fees for such a great benefactor . of the City of Rockland and surrounding communities.



Posted by: Bill Packard | May 13, 2014 19:17

So, buying an ambulance, paving part of the public landing, helping to purchase Merrill Park and paying for part of the ladder truck doesn't benefit the city?  It sounds to me like there has been a "we appreciate the support of the city and therefore we'll contribute way more than any fee" attitude.  If people think they can replace an ambulance for $15,000 or do much paving or repair piers for that money, I guess the city is right.  I doubt any future city needs will be paid for by the festival. The rental fee will more than likely go to city operations so when capital expenses come up they will be funded 100% by tax dollars.



Posted by: David E Myslabodski | May 13, 2014 18:00

It is time to be realistic. Some businesses make loads of money off the lobster fest but what about the city? Think not just about the use of the park but that amount of extra people cause lots of ware-and-tear all over Rockland and the City has to have to money to stay afloat.



Posted by: Angela Monroe | May 13, 2014 12:48

I can understand the city charging to recover extra costs to the city associated with the festival and other events (e.g., police, set-up costs, etc.) but I don't think they should charge more than that for any use of the public landing that provides direct and indirect economic benefit to the city. I think it's especially short sighted to charge a non-profit, charitalble organization like the festival for that use.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 13, 2014 11:31

May be time to simplify it back to what it was when it started: 4PM on Friday until 5PM on Sunday, Maine talent, free admission where ALL the locals went to see people they hadn't seen all year. Tough decision council members, yet you made it.



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Larry Di Giovanni
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Larry Di Giovanni, a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, is returning to his daily reporting roots in order to cover the city of Rockland for The Courier-Gazette. Originally from Athens, Ohio, his family includes one son, Tony.

Di Giovanni has covered news beats ranging from the city of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., to the largest tribal government in the United States — the Navajo Nation. He has also worked as a writer in the public education and higher education fields. He's an animal enthusiast and loves dogs.

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