RACINE — Salmon-A-Rama may pack up its fishing poles and go elsewhere.

The Finance and Personnel Committee voted Monday to recommend that the City Council deny Salmon-A-Rama’s request to reduce fees for holding the annual fishing contest at Pershing Park, 800 Pershing Drive. The organization requested that the city waive the set-up and takedown fees for the July 2019 event.

The request was brought to the city after the event’s organizers realized at their February meeting that the fees the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department is charging this year are more than double what they paid in 2018.

After Monday’s meeting, Salmon-A-Rama Vice President Jim “Doc” Poplawski called the committee’s decision “awful” and said the organization might consider relocating. The ultimate decision is to be made by the organization’s board at its meeting on March 6.

‘Resources have to come from somewhere’

During the city budget discussion last fall, Mayor Cory Mason and other department heads said they had transferred some operation costs to fees in order to help keep down the tax levy.

“We were working really hard to keep property taxes down this year,” Mason said on Monday. “The resources have to come from somewhere.”

Parks Director Tom Molbeck confirmed at the Monday meeting that last year, after their deposit was returned, the department charged Salmon-A-Rama a little under $3,000. This year, Molbeck said the total charged would be a little under $7,000 for two days of set-up, one day for takedown and nine days for the event itself.

Molbeck’s staff compared their fees with Kenosha, Janesville and Madison and said that while those cities’ fees were lower at the outset, they would “nickel and dime” renters for items like garbage cans. Molbeck said Racine’s fees look higher, but are all-inclusive packages.

“We are not pricing to price out anybody,” said Molbeck. “We’re asked to come up with fees for our budget and this is what we had.”

A ‘reasonable rate’

The 2019 event fee schedule is available on the city’s website. The Journal Times contacted the city and the Parks Department to ask for fee schedules from 2018 for comparison, but did not receive one as of Tuesday.

Eva Spalla of Racine wrote in a letter to the editor to The Journal Times that the fee for the Racine Christmas Coalition to display its annual Nativity scene on Monument Square had gone up from $2,500 to $3,200.

“Racine needs to thank the group for providing the Nativity and make a donation rather than trying to make money on it,” wrote Spalla. “It is unfair to expect this exorbitant fee for such a worthy cause and all the good it represents. It should remain in its place on Monument Square.”

Cari Greving, event director for Real Racine, the county’s tourism promotion agency, has already begun planning for the organization’s 19 annual events, the majority of which take place on city property. She said it appears public event fees have doubled across the board.

But Real Racine Executive Director Dave Blank said the increase will not affect its planned 2019 events.

“We just said, ‘Well, we’ll pay the additional dollars,’" said Blank. “Believe it or not, the city charges a reasonable rate for prime lakefront property in the middle of the summer.”

Blank said that, while he’s been a longtime supporter and organizer with Salmon-A-Rama, he agreed with the city committee’s decision not to give the event a discount.

“Everybody has to be treated the same,” said Blank. “If they get something cheaper, there’s a long list of event organizers that would like to get something cheaper.”

Downtown Racine Corp. Executive Director Kelly Kruse issued the following statement:

“(The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department) has been a great partner to the DRC. Although rate hikes are never pleasant, we certainly understand the need to increase after seven years holding steady,” Kruse wrote. “Currently we are working with them to make sure Downtown’s Monument Square continues to stay activated throughout the entire summer with events, and they have been nothing short of accommodating and helpful.”

Request denied

Salmon-A-Rama was held at Festival Hall for decades before it relocated to the parking lot by the Reefpoint Marina in 2014. In 2018, the event partnered with the city again and moved to Pershing Park.

Alderman Mary Land of the 11th District said she is concerned that by having the fees so high, the event organizers may have to relocate again.

“This is a good community event here providing lots of good things to our community,” said Land. “I think this is a steep raise in price for them.”

Mason and 8th District Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II expressed concern that if the city made an exception for Salmon-A-Rama, it would have to do so for other organizations, which would skew the city’s budget.

Shakoor and aldermen Terry McCarthy of the 9th District and Tracey Larrin of the 4th District voted Monday to send the proposal to the full City Council with a recommendation to deny Salmon-A-Rama’s request. Land voted in opposition.

The council is expected to make a final vote on the matter at the next City Council meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 730 Washington Ave., Room 205.

This article has been altered from the original to accurately name of The Christmas Coalition.

“We were working really hard to keep property taxes down this year. The resources have to come from somewhere.” Mayor Cory Mason

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Christina Lieffring covers the City of Racine and the City of Burlington and is a not-bad photographer. In her spare time she tries to keep her plants and guinea pigs alive and happy.

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