OSWEGO, NY â€“ Harborfest 2011 could be a reduced version of the summer festival that has attracted nearly 250,000 visitors to the Port City each summer for more than two decades.
At its meeting Monday night, the Common Council voted 5-2 to approve the transfer of funding ($77,700) into the police, fire, traffic and parks accounts to cover anticipated overtime costs for Harborfest 2010.
The funding for overtime for Harborfest was transferred out of the appropriate budget accounts during the 2010 budget process.
In order to support this year’s celebration, it will be necessary to transfer funding from Account 1990.462 to the appropriate accounts under the fire ($15,000), police ($29,000), traffic ($4,700) and parks ($29,000), the mayor told the councilors.
Voting against the move were councilors Shawn Walker (R-Fourth Ward) and Bill Sharkey (R-Sixth Ward).
Even the councilors who supported the move agreed that the city cannot continue to spend so much on Harborfest related matters in the coming years.
“If we do not have enough money to run the city of Oswego properly, should we be taking taxpayers’ dollars to fund Harborfest’s party?” asked Sharkey. “I have received numerous calls from people in different wards, including my own, they’re saying they can’t afford the sewer fee, can’t afford the taxes, can’t afford to live here. And, we’re going to fund a hundred grand for Harborfest?”
He said he thought Harborfest was “put on notice” when the council moved the funds out of the overtime budgets during the budget processes.
“If they want to have the party, they should fund it. Now we backtrack and waste more taxpayers’ dollars on a party that we can’t afford,” he said. “Harborfest is not going to support the city of Oswego. But we are asked to support them. It’s their party, they should pay for it. I don’t know what anybody can be looking at supporting this dead horse year after year.”
The city has already approved resolutions allowing Harborfest to use public space, Council President Dan Donovan (R-Fifth Ward) pointed out. The opening night and Friday night acts have been announced.
“It’s a little late to pull the plug now on Harborfest this year,” he said.
The council and Harborfest officials can get together and discuss next year, he added.
Councilor Connie Cosemento (D-First Ward) agreed.
“We have to give Harborfest due notice,” she said. “As we do our (2011) budget, we may not even have the money (for the overtime budgets) so there won’t be any money to transfer. I will support tonight’s resolution, but I will also support making changes in the future.”
Sharkey said he thought that last August when the council was working in this year’s budget and removed the overtime that they were pulling the plug on Harborfest then.
“I will never fund another dollar for Harborfest when this city is looking at $100 million worth of debt,” Sharkey said.
Walker said he didn’t want to shut down Harborfest. But he questioned why the city’s taxpayers had to fund it.
Cosemento said she wanted to clarify that he city wasn’t giving Harborfest money. The funds were for overtime pay for city workers, she pointed out.
Sharkey offered a clarification for her clarification.
“If we did not have Harborfest we wouldn’t have to pay overtime for any department. If Harborfest ceased doing this, all these (overtime) numbers would be zero,” he said. “The taxpayers of Oswego lose again.”
Councilor Cathy Santos (R-Third Ward) said she’d support Monday’s resolution for safety reasons. However, she noted that the city had to find ways to reduce funds associated with Harborfest starting next year.
“It seems to me that the discussion with the Harborfest people needs to start early; we need to talk about this. It should not be on the backs of the citizens of the city,” she said. “And, we also need to hear from the city residents about how they feel.”
Sharkey accused his fellow councilors ignoring any calls that they got that were anti-Harborfest or just didn’t answer their phones.
The mayor admonished him for his remarks.
“I take serious offense to someone saying to me, and anyone else here, that they skirt their phone calls. I just resent that, it’s wrong,” Donovan added.
Many city businesses benefit greatly from Harborfest, he noted.
“Harborfest is now put on notice,” Councilor Mike Myers (R-Second Ward) said that after this year, funding from the city for Harborfest related work will dry up.
Councilor Ron Kaplewicz said the city was between a rock and a hard place.
They need to come to an understanding with Harborfest as to who is responsible for what, he said.
“I agree we have to do something different next year,” Donovan said.