City commission to decide on RCPD pay for special city events

Photo by Parker Robb | The Collegian A Fake Patty's Day reveler drunkenly dances in front of law enforcement officers Saturday in Aggieville.

The Manhattan City Commission could not come to an agreement during a Riley County Police board meeting on June 16. The commission decided to wait until next month before voting on a policy that would allow the Riley County Police Department to charge for services provided at special events in town.

Manhattan hosts several special events each year such as the Country Stampede, K-State football and basketball games, Fake Patty’s Day and Little Apple New Year’s Eve, all of which rely on the RCPD for security purposes. The police, however, are not paid for their services at these events.

With the next police board meeting scheduled for Monday, it’s time for the City Commission to make a decision.

John Doehling, assistant director of the RCPD, said the amount of money that should have been made for 19 events serviced last year alone is staggering.

“When you multiply the number of events, times the number of hours, times the number of officers, times their overtime rate, that amount, surprisingly, is in excess of $390,000 in a year,” Doehling says. “That’s how much we pay off if we would have charged for all 19 events in the past year.”

With the new policy, the RCPD would be granted permission from the city to charge for special events. However, the police department has already begun charging for some events. In the fall of 2013, the RCPD requested payment for the Diva Dash, Double Road Race, Girls on the Run in the Flint Hills and Run for the Hills 5K. RCPD Director Brad Schoen said the issue is knowing how to determine which events to charge for.

As all of the already charged events were races, the focus of the board meeting shifted to this particular type of special event. Before turning it over to public comment, Mayor Wynn Butler conveyed one reason several organizations provided in favor of disallowing itemized charges for special events.

“That’s why we pay our taxes,” he said.

Schoen said he understands how these organizations feel, and has sympathy for their comments. He acknowledged that though many of these groups are nonprofit organizations that are hosting races for charitable causes, there are others who are doing it for business gain. Arbitrarily determining which groups to charge and which not to is a challenge, he said.

“This is the struggle that we ran into,” Schoen said. “There are certain things that appear to be like community-type events, but are there others that aren’t. They’re becoming more and more of the road races — is that a community event or is it not? Is it a promotional event for the businesses involved or is it not?”

Butler said there needs to be some type of formulaic way of deciding which organizations should be charged. He suggested making a list to see which events would be exempt based on whether or not they were traditional events.

Many of the roughly 30 audience members present at the meeting provided input and opinions. Pat Melgares, president of the Manhattan Cross Country Club, said his group has organized numerous races and special events around town and that a key consideration with the new policy is the fact that not every road race is the same.

He said his group is nonprofit, grassroots and donates everything it earns to the community; namely, he said his group does not make any money.

“Since 2008 we have a project that we do with the Body First School Fitness Challenge,” Melgares said. “We’ve donated $36,000 to local schools — we’re talking about a group that started with $800.”

He was discouraged from hosting a previously proposed event, because he would have been charged $900 for it.

“Nine hundred dollars means a lot to a group like mine that, 11 years ago, got started with $800,” Melgares said.

Melgares said his group and similar groups have a positive impact on the community, providing exercise opportunities for the youth. He said he fears the policy could discourage local groups from holding races. This would provide more opportunity for big, out-of-state racing companies to host events in Manhattan and then take those earnings somewhere else.

“A lot of us are not going to be able to pay $500-$1,000,” Melgares said. “For-profit racing companies are going to be more able to accept those kinds of financial risks.”

Another concerned audience member was Doug Sellers, who has been supporting races in town for the past 15 years. He is the founder of Body First, a local massage therapy business. Even though the company is a for-profit organization, Sellers said the money it earns from its races does not go back to the company, but rather to other organizations that host races in Manhattan. In 15 years, Body First has donated over $127,000 to these local events and races, he said.

“This is something that we do to try and make a more health-conscientious town,” Sellers said.

To promote this goal, Sellers said he wanted to host his own event called the Wicked Marathon. After learning that the RCPD would be charging for the event, Sellers said he moved it to Wamego.

“Wamego, when I asked how much it was going to charge, told me that this was part of their job,” Sellers said. “This is what they do. The Pottawatomie Police Department said the same thing. So we got charged absolutely nothing for the Wicked Marathon, and that’s because the majority of the money goes back to the Wamego High School.”

Sellers said he wants to make sure events like these can continue in Manhattan, because the money raised goes right back to support the community.

Annette Moran, accountant for the RCPD, said she has hope that the policy will be approved despite arguments from the other side.

“This is not the first time this issue has been brought before the board,” Moran said.

She said the RCPD is right in proposing this new policy.

“The RCPD was heard,” Moran said. “The board listens.”

Gina Scroggs, executive director of downtown Manhattan and a member of the RCPD Community advisory board, suggested adding more money to the RCPD overtime budget because doing so would appeal to both sides.

“There’s got to be a balance,” Scroggs said. “We need to find some way to maintain these community events while not adding additional stress on the Riley County Police Department.”