Council makes Lobster Festival pay for park use
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 email@example.com.