(July 2009 West Seattle Grand Parade photo by Patrick Sand)
That’s just one of many scenes from last year’s West Seattle American Legion Post 160 Grand Parade (its official name, not “Hi-Yu Parade” though the West Seattle Hi-Yu contingent is a popular participant!). This year’s edition is coming up July 24, from California/Lander to California/Edmunds as usual, and, also as usual, it’s a massive volunteer undertaking, as are most if not all of the other community parades around Seattle. And since it’s a free event, its organizers don’t exactly have a big pot of money on which to draw for expenses – which is why a recent announcement sparked so much concern: The city had recently started notifying parades that effective immediately, they would have to pick up the cost for no-parking signs and other standard trappings.
We heard about this from local organizers, and checked with SDOT. Communications director Rick Sheridan replied:
Based on the significant budget shortfall that the city is facing in this and future years, SDOT is reviewing all of its programs. In an era of tight budgets, SDOT believes it needs to carefully focus its limited resources. In previous years, the department placed traffic controls signs for community events and the city covered the expense. This year SDOT proposed that events needing these services should be responsible for covering the costs.
However, based on concerns raised by organizers of several community events about their ability to cover these costs on short notice, SDOT has reconsidered this decision for 2010. Program cuts for this year will not include reductions in event support and we will look for alternative midyear reductions.
But, Sheridan went on to say, this plan WILL be in next year’s budget. So here’s the challenge for the West Seattle parade and others: WS Parade Coordinator Jim Edwards explains they are stuck in a conundrum. Just charge entries a little more to cover the cost, you say? Problem is, they cannot charge for entries at all, without sharply raising their costs: Edwards explains that any parade charging for entries has to pay five times the permit fee of those that don’t.
The West Seattle parade usually gets a few monetary donations, which help cover costs, but otherwise, because of the permit prerequisite, everyone who enters the parade – and watches the parade – does so for free.
(July 2009 West Seattle Grand Parade photo by Christopher Boffoli)
Edwards says parade organizers would like to have the right to charge a fee to entries that use the parade as a marketing opportunity – commercial and political entries – without Post 160 having to pay for a costlier permit. If the rules were changed to allow that, it would help them cover what they expect will be at least a $1,500 added cost for the signage next year, if the new SDOT plan goes through.
It’s not that the parade’s been draining resources over the years without compensating the city at all; Edwards explains that the West Seattle parade already participates in the city’s “cost recovery” process, and has taken steps over the years to use fewer city resources: “Our original permit costs were upward of $1,500. But because we have a good community who cleans up the roadway at the end of the parade, our costs steadily decreased over the years. We reduced costs further by downsizing crowd estimates slightly as well. We further cut costs at the request of (police) by moving the parade south of Admiral Way.”
(Photo from July 2009 parade by Tracy Record)
The “cost recovery” process, he says, had been multidepartmental on the city side – but now with SDOT’s announcement, he wonders, “Are we now going to have each department instituting its own cost recovery process? Our parade is 1.5 miles. If you include assembly, dispersal, Metro bypasses, Emergency routes. We have signage on about 3.5 miles of roadway…. Our costs will be much higher than say the 2-block-long Magnolia parade.”
So for now, it’s on with this year’s parade as usual, but American Legion Post 160 and those who run Seattle’s other remaining community parades will be watching the city-budget process, to see how this shakes out.
“Knowing that this increased cost may be a possibility next year doesn’t make it any easier to pay, but at least we have time to figure out how,” Edwards says. “It would be our hope that the Special Events Committee makes changes to the rules and allows the community parades to charge a small fee to commercial and political entries in the parade, while still maintaining the free status to everyone else. … I would also hope that the portion of the permit that is (already) considered SDOT costs, (then) be removed from the permit fee. These fees were established under what the city called a cost-recovery program some 15 years ago or so. It was determined that we needed to pick up some of the costs that the city departments incurred from all these parades, hence the massive increase in permit costs.”