Skyrocketing city fees put Edmonton festivals in jeopardy

WATCH ABOVE: With Edmonton's summer festival season upon us, some event organizers say the cost of city fees to put on events is so high, they may not be around much longer. As Quinn Ohler explains, the city is now looking at changes to make sure Alberta's capital maintains its "festival city" status.

Some major Edmonton festivals say city fees have gotten so expensive they may not be able to run their events the same way they are now in the future.

The organizers of several Edmonton festivals came together to rally for change, saying the cost for things like policing, road closures, and park, bylaw and permit fees have skyrocketed. Some city fees jumped by as much as 80 per cent.

“Two years ago it just suddenly jumped. A lot. And it keeps going up,” Jim Gibbon with the Servus Heritage Festival said.

Civic fees for the Servus Heritage Festival jumped from $69,000 in 2013 to $155,000 last year. Organizers expect the fees to grow to $250,000 this year.

“When you look at $250,000 to $300,000 for a bill just for civic services, never mind everything else we provide, you have to start to question the long-term survivability,” Gibbon said.

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The bill is bittersweet for many festivals, as the increased cost is a sign of success. More people attending a festival means a need for more police and city personnel and their wages have gone up.

Angela Bennett with the Edmonton Pride Festival said something has to change.

“It’s become very, very difficult. I said to Civic Events this year that this year we’re going with the parade but next year it’s up in the air because we can’t sustain this kind of increase.”

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Every year, the City of Edmonton hosts more than 750 festivals and events. Festivals receive some operating funding from the city, but in cases like Pride and the Heritage Festival, most – if not all – of the money goes right back to the city to pay for things like policing, transportation and permits.

Edmonton City Council said it is looking into creating a grant program specifically for civic fees in hopes of covering at least 50 per cent of the cost.

“It gets us away from this idea that the operational funding, the programming funding that we’re giving to the Arts Council, is the appropriate source to pay ourselves back for our services, which I think is a kind of ludicrous thing to begin with,” Ward 8 Councillor Ben Henderson said.

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Council is also looking at the possibility of providing a rebate to some festivals for their 2015 costs.

“It’s a major part of what people love about Edmonton,” Henderson said of the city’s festivals. “I would hate to lose them because we weren’t prepared to pay for them.”

With files from Quinn Ohler, Global News. 

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