By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | Jan. 24, 2012
Could Elgin’s annual Fox Trot be held on a Saturday?
Probably not, but four years of budget cuts have sharply reduced the city’s staff and budget, and the trickle-down effect of those reductions will take a toll on community events — Elgin officials are looking at a variety of ways to curb the increased time demands on staff and the expenses associated with such events.
The Elgin City Council on Wednesday will consider changes to special events in the year ahead to consolidate their number and the costs associated with them, yet allowing various groups to plug into them. Any organizations opting to pursue their own events at other times would be responsible for the full costs of running them, including reimbursing the city for its costs associated with their events.
Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said Monday one of the ideas staff considered — and abandoned — was moving the 35th annual Fox Trot from its traditional run on Memorial Day, a Monday, to the preceding Saturday. The Fox Trot is one of the city’s longest-running special events.
The idea of moving it to Saturday first was proposed as a way of enticing Fox Trot participants to stay downtown after the race and perhaps spend some money with local merchants, as well as to clear up traffic issues for veterans who attend a Memorial Day ceremony at the Elgin Veterans Memorial next to Gail Borden Public Library. The timing of the annual race creates a conflict with the ceremony, and some veterans have complained of difficulty getting through the street closures to the memorial site.
The city’s initial response to veterans’ complaints was to assign police officers to direct traffic to the memorial, but that comes at a cost. Kozal said that in considering moving Fox Trot to Saturday, the city also had hoped it might provide some cost savings in that area.
“The analysis proved we’d actually be inconveniencing more people by doing it on Saturday, and we wouldn’t save anything with police,” Kozal said. He added that Sunday was ruled out because of the church-bound traffic through downtown during the mornings, which also would conflict with the Fox Trot.
Ultimately, the Fox Trot discussion, Kozal said, was part of the larger issue related to special events coming up in 2012.
The staff memo to the Elgin City Council on the subject indicates that since 2008, additional staff time dedicated to special events has grown with the number of events. In 2008, there were 66 events; that grew to 117 in 2011. The events include such things as film shoots, charity walks, carnivals, boat races and other new events that must be processed by the city’s special events office. That involves a review by the Community Engagement Committee, which involves the police, fire, public works, land management, and community development departments.
But in 2008, the city’s special events and outreach staff included four full-time and one part-time workers, as well as one intern, and a $771,910 events budget to handle the 66 outside event applications. In 2011, the special events budget was just $460,628, and was staffed with one full-time and two part-time employees who processed more than 117 outside applications.
The 2012 special events budget is $395,190, down 14 percent from 2011 and 49 percent from 2008.
The smaller staff, the staff memo to the City Council states, means applicants sometimes see delays or have seen a deterioration in the level of city support. In some incidents, the memo states, concerns have been raised that the city is not treating all special events applications fairly. The memo also notes that groups have pointed out inconsistencies in city policies and ordinances related to special events and the use of city facilities.
The city administration is proposing a one-year trial in 2012 of a plan to consolidate the city’s special events to address the financial and staffing challenges, while still providing quality events and offering outside groups the opportunity to participate. The program would be evaluated at year’s end.