ArtsQuest plans to pay the city of Bethlehem about $50,000 less for services rendered during Musikfest, as the city plans to cut back on police, fire and emergency medical protection that will be provided at festival venues.
ArtsQuest is still in the process of paying the city $285,000 it owes for services provided during the 2011 festival.
Under the terms of a mutual agreement, which City Council’s Finance Committee discussed on Monday night, that payment is expected to drop to $235,000 for the 2012 festival.
However, the city will also be providing less manpower and services to the festival. For example:
- ArtsQuest will hire a private ambulance services to staff festival venues, eliminating the need for Bethlehem EMS to keep personnel on scene at all times. That alone cost $14,000 in 2011, according to Walt Keiper, the organization’s senior vice president for finance and administration.
- Two fewer firefighters will be kept on call at the campus during afternoon hours of the festival, said Fire Chief George Barkanic.
- Streets personnel will be cut by more than half as ArtsQuest staff will perform cleaning services at the majority of the platzes, though city staff will continue to clean Main Street.
- Electrical bureau personnel will continue to work on festival setup, but will not be on duty during festival hours. They will be available on call in case of emergencies, said Michael Alkhal, the city’s director of Public Works.
- The will no longer be providing security to festival venues during the overnight hours – a detail which amounted to guarding chairs and equipment. ArtsQuest will instead provide its own staff to watch the festival venues during overnight hours.
Bethlehem Police Chief Jason Schiffer assured council members that public safety will not be compromised even with fewer officers on scene during off-peak hours. Festival staffing will be cut by about a quarter during weekday afternoons. But police presence during the festival’s peak evening and weekend hours will remain virtually the same as they have ever been, Schiffer said.
Council members made it clear that they do not want public safety at the festival to be compromised.
“We cannot afford a major incident because that would be a black eye on the festival,” said Councilman Robert Donchez.
Keiper said ArtsQuest’s motivation to reduce city services to the festival was twofold.
First, there is a desire to reduce the city’s financial burden as Keiper noted former Controller Meg Holland’s repeated complaints that ArtsQuest never paid its full share of benefits to employees who work at the festival.
Second, ArtsQuest has a desire to reduce its own costs, especially after its experience of a year ago when six out of 10 days of wet weather led to an . It was the first time in a decade that festival attendance did not top one million visitors, dropping all the way to 860,000 people.