NEW PORT RICHEY — Chasco Fiesta organizers have struck a deal to keep next year's festival in the city, with some city support.
After a nearly four-hour work session Tuesday evening, City Council members pledged to support about $40,000 in services for the March event, Pasco's largest and longest-running festival. The council will vote on the deal Oct. 18.
"I think it's going to work," Chasco executive director Kristen King said, smiling, when asked after the meeting if the festival would stay in the city.
But for months, the outlook had not been so rosy. In June, City Manager John Schneiger announced the city could no longer afford to provide police officers, firefighters, public works and parks crews to facilitate downtown events. In the past year those events cost the city upwards of $180,000, including $85,000 for Chasco.
With the city facing shrinking revenue, Schneiger argued the events should pick up the tab. But organizers noted these events are fundraisers for nonprofits and said the added costs could sink them.
Since then negotiations, at times contentious, resulted in Chasco officials pledging to cut costs by bringing in more volunteers, helping with cleanup and beefing up security to ease the burden on police.
Still, Chasco organizers entered Tuesday's meeting with an undisclosed alternate site outside the city — a Plan B, should the city pull the plug on all funding.
Chasco organizers and officials with the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, which runs the event, lined up to make the pitch to council members that they needed a little more than $42,000 worth of city services to get by.
King presented bleak budget numbers from last spring's Chasco to illustrate the need. The 11-day event, which provides the venue for more than 30 nonprofits to raise money through everything from food booths to the coronation ball, lost nearly $22,000, she said.
Ultimately, council members agreed to meet in the middle, much as they did last month for Founders Day, the Cotee River Bike Fest, Main Street Holidays and the Holiday Parade. Organizers of those events cut costs by rounding up more volunteers, and in the case of the Holiday Parade, by arranging for jail inmates to help with setup and cleanup. The city agreed to kick in some support, though less than half of last year's amount.
The council also pledged Tuesday evening to increase the scrutiny on the city's tab for such events.
City reviews showed neither side had kept sufficient track of spending for special events, so Schneiger proposed a set of measures for all events that will be more exact.
All special event organizers will soon need to enter into memorandums of understanding with the city that provide line item details of what city services they need. The city will provide a set fee scale, so every cost will be agreed on down to the penny.
The method of paying for police at the events will also change. The city will collect the payments from event organizers, then pay the officers. In the past, organizers have paid off-duty officers directly, leaving both the city and the events with liability issues, Schneiger said.
Even as the city and Chasco organizers found some common ground Tuesday, flashes of tension remained over the cost and benefit of such events.
At one point, Chasco organizers presented a study they commissioned to assess the event's economic impact on New Port Richey.
The study found the city can expect 140,000 visitors during Chasco, including about 46,000 visitors from outside the area who will spend an average of $50-a-head in local businesses. Those visitors also pay sales taxes and spur other spending, bringing the festival's total impact to the city to $2.8 million, according to Chasco steering committee member Michael Cox.
"That's a big shot in the arm," Cox said.
But downtown business owner and Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe scoffed at assertions each Chasco out-of-towner spends $50 during his or her visit.
"That number," he said, "is beyond bogus."