Edmonton Heritage Festival organizers say ballooning policing costs are forcing them to consider drastic solutions, including raising food ticket prices, to balance their budget.
The three-day festival is preparing to spend around $225,000 to $240,000 this year to cover the cost of security provided by Edmonton police. It's an increase of about $60,000 over last year, the festival's executive director, Jim Gibbon, said.
The cost of hiring EPS officers to provide festival security has gone up "substantially" for the past 10 years, Gibbon said. A decade ago, the festival spent $4,000 on security. Two years ago, they spent $72,000. Last year cost $162,000, he said.
"At some point, people are going to start talking about ticket costs." - Jim Gibbon, Edmonton Heritage Festival
Now in its 41st year, Gibbon said entry to the festival will always be free. But the increase means they must consider all options to generate and save money to account for an almost $250,000 jump in policing costs over the past 10 years, he said.
"It's not little incremental steps, it's giant, enormous steps," Gibbon said. "And at some point, people are going to start talking about ticket costs. We don't want to do those sorts of things but you're almost forced into raising some of those prices."
As of Jan. 2016, EPS increased the cost of hiring their officers under the Extra Duty Detail policy. The hourly cost of having one police officer provide security for an event, such as a festival, now ranges from $122 for a constable to $189 for an inspector.
Price hike for police security first since 2008
This is the first time since 2008 that the costs for private contract policing have increased, and the increase covers direct and indirect costs, such as the officer's salary, administrative and management costs, equipment and training.
Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht said the policy was reviewed two years ago, and organizations were given between six months to a year's notice of the price increases. Knecht said EPS makes no money through the Extra Duty Detail program.
"We didn't flick the switch in one day," Knecht said. "We looked at it two years ago and we said, 'We're actually losing money to the point where the Edmonton taxpayer is paying for these extra duties.' Well, that's wrong, that can't happen.
"Now we have a new model, and that has user pay, and user pay is exactly what it costs us so that it's not a burden on the taxpayer."
Knecht said in the past, EPS used to charge only $25 per day for clients to have a police car at their event. The current cost for this service is $30 an hour, for a minimum of three hours.
Still, Knecht said the Heritage Festival's estimated $60,000 cost for policing this summer sounds like "quite a bit" for a three-day festival.
"If you're consuming a lot of police services, yeah, that amount is going to be significant. But if it's gone up by $60,000, I find that remarkable," he said.
Gibbon said organizers brought up the idea of hiring less expensive third-party security instead of police officers, a model used by the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. Gibbon said EPS told them that option wouldn't work for the festival's expansive grounds at Hawrelak Park.
Police did suggest some solutions, Gibbon said. One option was to shut down the bridge over Groat Road and control traffic from both ends. Gibbon said he'd like to find other ways of ensuring better access to the site without enormous costs.
More funding necessary for summer festivals, councillor says
City councillor Ben Henderson said he's heard from other summer festival organizers concerned that the costs of covering policing and transportation are going up faster than their grant funding.
"If these costs are going up … the amount of money we give back to the festivals has to go up by at least the same amount," Henderson said.
He said questions need to be asked about why such costs are rising so much and whether these increases are valid. If so, he said funding needs to be made available to festivals to accommodate the increasing security costs.
"These are big and important events for the city, and not just for citizens, a lot of them are big tourist draws," he said. "They're a large part of the quality of life in this city. We need to be there to support them. They're important to us."