Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Tall ships safety tab torpedoes reserves

The board of International Park of Toledo, Inc., plans to virtually clean out its reserve fund to pay $138,000 in expenses for the Huntington Tall Ships Festival.

A low number of paying visitors and high security costs blew the event's budget off course, organizers said.

To balance the books, the park board will take money from its $140,000 reserve fund. The board established the fund about a year ago when it received the estate of a local resident who died.

“We're on the verge, even with our reserves, of not having enough money,” board president Walter Edelen said. “Our reserves will be eaten up to try to meet our financial responsibilities. It's not a happy picture.”

The board had considered paying only part of the $20 per hour rate for security officers, but members decided to pay the full rate to the 125 off-duty police officers, sheriff's deputies, and auxiliary sheriff's deputies who worked at the event.

The security costs came to $72,000. The board budgeted only $45,000 for security.

Park board members said they relinquished some control of security decisions to the Toledo Police Department and other city officials, and said homeland security concerns bumped up the costs.

Board member Kelly Rivera said “the security costs absolutely got away from the board.” She said the Tall Ships festival in Cleveland had $30,000 of security, and Muskegon, Mich., spent $15,000 on officers for its event.

Councilman Bob McCloskey, whose district includes International Park, said he has heard conflicting stories about who made security staffing decisions.

“What we've seen is hours of police working, and no one knows why or who hired them,” he said. “The bottom line is we're going to do a complete audit.”

The board expected 60,000 people to pay the $15 fee to see the Tall Ships, but only 27,000 paid to enter the fenced-in area guarded by security forces.

Ms. Rivera said the event had an excellent turnout overall, but many people looked at the ships from a distance without paying.

She blamed the sluggish economy for residents' reluctance to pay the entrance fee, noting that Cleveland also had low turnout, and Muskegon had about half the paying visitors predicted there.

“This event in its entirety was a success. We do have the funds to pay off all the bills,” she said. “This was excellent for the city. It was an extraordinary event.”

The park board had hoped to use its reserve funds to refurbish the S.S. Willis B. Boyer Museum Ship and build a storage facility at International Park to house equipment for its annual holiday lights show.

Mr. Edelen said he has faith that the all-volunteer board will build up more funds for the projects, but he may not be around to see it. He plans to leave the board in November to focus more on other activities, including volunteering for Boy Scouts.

The park board president is not the only member on the way out. Phil Couture, board vice president, resigned last week to spend more time at work.

Ms. Rivera predicted more board members would resign too, partly because of frustrations over how members of the police department and the media have complained about the festival's finances. She predicted as many as one-third of the board's 20 active members would leave.

“The spirit of volunteerism has been crushed,” she said. “We don't deserve to have our event labeled as a flop because of a security bill that was overcharged.”

Mr. McCloskey said it was a mistake to have a volunteer board plan an event as large as the Huntington Tall Ships Festival.

“If I were to do the event over again, I would not allow a volunteer board to do it,” he said. “The city needs to have more control.”

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