Patterson City Council members have sought to lend a helping hand by voting April 16 to waive a fee for public safety services and by considering a long-term plan to help with future fiscal emergencies.
Liability insurance costs jumped nearly $2,000 between 2012 and 2013, said Apricot Fiesta Secretary Marilyn Hoobler on Monday, April 22. Annual insurance fees for the fiesta reached just less than $12,000 this year, she said.
Volunteers seek city help
After noting the spike in the insurance bill early this month, a few Apricot Fiesta board members, including Chairman Rich Greer, approached the City Council during its April 16 meeting. Council members granted their request to waive a $5,000 fee the city normally charges the fiesta for public safety and will absorb the cost as part of the city’s $25,000 budget for fiesta expenses.
“If we don’t work together, there won’t be an Apricot Fiesta in two or three or four years,” Greer told the council April 16.
Now in its 43rd year, the Apricot Fiesta is the largest event in the city of Patterson, attracting nearly 30,000 people downtown each year.
The nonprofit Patterson Apricot Fiesta volunteer board runs the event, which is supported financially by vendor fees and sponsorships.
The celebration takes place the weekend after Memorial Day, which falls May 31 through June 2 this year.
The fiesta’s budget fell on hard times recently, mostly because rainy weather in 2011 drove away the crowds, causing the nonprofit to run $16,000 in the red that year, board president Jeff Essex told the council on April 16.
Organizers were mostly able to dig out of that hole in 2012, ending up with a $1,600 deficit, but financial challenges persist, including the rising cost of insurance.
Insurance costs soar
Insurers have told fiesta officials they are wary of underwriting policies for community events in California because lawsuits are common in the Golden State, Hoobler said this week.
“We’re one of the states that’s a sue state,” she said.
The fiesta’s insurance costs were only about $3,000 a year in 1984, when Hoobler began working as secretary for the nonprofit, compared with nearly $12,000 today, she said.
Certain fiesta activities have been eliminated through the decades because of prohibitive insurance costs. Those include a hot air balloon launch at Patterson Community Stadium, which cost $1,500 to insure, regardless of whether conditions allowed the balloons to lift off.
Hoobler said it has also become increasingly costly to pay for insurance for volunteers and for Miss Patterson and her court during events they attend during the year, including the Newman Fall Festival and the annual Fourth of July celebration in Gustine.
Local fees rise as economy sours
Other financial challenges have come from the city.
In 2007, the city of Patterson began requiring each vendor to have a business license — a cost of $25 per booth — to sell goods at the fiesta. That same year, the city began charging the fiesta a variable fee for safety inspections made by the fire department. Last year, the city collected a total of $4,750 from all of those fees.
In 2009, the city also began charging the fiesta $5,000 annually to help out with public safety costs.
At the time, according to City Finance Director Minnie Moreno, the city was making other sacrifices, such as reducing scholarships for city recreation programs, in light of a souring economy and a massive drop in property tax assessments because of declining real estate values.
“It wasn’t gradual,” Moreno said of the drop in assessments. “It was across the board, and it was a direct hit to the general fund.”
Even in years when the nonprofit Apricot Fiesta was required to chip in for public safety costs, the city footed most of the bill, City Manager Rod Butler said.
Moreno said the city has paid an average of $14,500 annually for the festival’s public safety services during the past four years, and it budgets a total of $25,000 each year for fiesta-related expenditures.
City officials seek solutions
Councilwoman Deborah Novelli sought to help the fiesta by recommending that the council consider an emergency item during its April 16 meeting to waive the fiesta’s public safety fees.
Councilman Dominic Farinha also suggested during that meeting that the fiesta create an “organizational plan” laying out the expenses to be paid by the city and the fiesta, with allowances to manage financial emergencies that may arise.
He said Monday, April 22, that he hoped such a plan would help both the city and the fiesta.
Farinha said the festival contributes to a sense of identity for local residents, promotes the city to outsiders and produces revenue for local businesses.
“If there’s any one event that the city of Patterson can identify with, it’s this one, and if we haven’t already done so, we need to recognize the jewel in the rough that we have,” Farinha said.
Community can play a role
Hoobler said residents can support the fiesta by showing up to the annual celebration and spending money there. People can also donate directly to the fiesta or to its annual fireworks demonstration.
Those who want to contribute can call Hoobler at 892-3118 or send donations to the Patterson Apricot Fiesta office, P.O. Box 442, Patterson, CA 95363.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com.