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Special events draw big crowds, OT bills for Butler police

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 6:04 p.m.
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The Cruise-A-Palooza is one of the largest summer events in Butler, but the mayor is questioning how much the city should have to pay police to provide security there.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
File photo Torrey Jones of Ellwood City lifts his son Noah so he can look inside a half-track at the World War II encampment exhibit at the 2014 Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in Slippery Rock on June 13.

Butler's mayor is questioning who should pay the hefty overtime bill for police who work special events such as the Jeep Festival and the Cruise-A-Palooza, the two largest summer events in the city.

The question could pit the city against organizations that have run the events for decades.

“The city just can't afford this. I'd like them to pay 100 percent for police,” said Tom Donaldson, adding that he doesn't want the events — economic boons to all of Butler County — to disappear.

In July, Donaldson made and then tabled a proposal to increase the share of police overtime costs the event organizers would shoulder to 75 percent up from 25 percent. Council is scheduled to consider the proposal this month.

Cruise-A-Palooza organizers this year paid the city $3,500 for police protection. The Jeep Festival paid $4,600, Donaldson said.

Doubling or tripling Cruise-A-Palooza's responsibility would strain the Rodfathers (as in hot rod), the vintage car organization that sponsors the event, said organizer Dan Cunningham of Butler.

One way of paying would be to levy a mercantile tax on vendors.

“They already pay to rent space. They would then have to be paying a second fee,” he said. “I am not sure how well that will go.”

If fees are too high, Cunningham said the Rodfathers would have to consider a venue outside the city, such as the site of the Butler Farm Show in Butler Township.

Cruise-A-Palooza features 1,800 cruise cars. Roughly 25,000 to 30,000 people attend each year. It has been held in June for 20 years.

The increase in police overtime fees would apply to the Butler Fall Festival on Sept. 20 that features live music, vendors and a vintage car display.

Jack Cohen, head of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, which runs the Jeep Festival, said special events need to figure out how to generate more revenue.

“These events have to have fire, medical and police. The city does not have the income to pay for all of this,” Cohen said.

Butler isn't alone, said Rick Schuettler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League.

“Public safety does not come cheap. More and more municipalities are looking at this,” he said.

Donaldson shook up the police department's leadership just days into his administration, saying police needed to focus on investigating drug-related crimes.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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