LA MESA – Oktoberfest, the city’s annual three-day celebration of beer, sausage and music has dodged a bullet. Members of the Downtown La Mesa Merchant’s Association and the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting prepared to issue a warning: If the City insisted on the Oktoberfest sponsors paying for 100 percent of city expenses related to the event, Oktoberfest’s future could be threatened.
“We would not be able to put it on if we have to cover 100 percent,’’ said Mary England, the Chamber president and chief executive.
But if the city is going to reduce its subsidy for the event after more than 30 years, it wasn’t happening in this election year.
The council, after reaffirming its desire to have all downtown events eventually pay their own way and cover extra city costs, agreed to continue splitting the costs with the merchants and business community.
Acknowledging that these are particularly difficult times for local businesses that benefit from the influx of visitors for Oktoberfest, the council voted 4-0 (Mayor Art Madrid was away on a trip) to continue contributing 50 percent of the extra police and fire department time the event requires.
Local resident Dexter Levy, who watches city spending closely and often comments on city issues, complimented the business community for the organized and effective way Oktoberfest is run, but he reminded the council that the city, in tough times, has subsidized that event to the tune of more than $250,000 since 2004 alone. This year's city costs are estimated at $82,000, half of which the city would pay.
England and the Chamber’s David Smiley outlined the council the literally thousands of hours volunteers contribute to the event and chronicled how the profits fuel a variety of business programs that also benefit local merchants and, indirectly, the city’s economy and tax revenues.
Still, while holding off on ending the subsidy, the council members listed a variety of events that promote the city – for example the Thursday Night Car Show and the annual Flag Day Parade – but require extra spending by the city for safety , refuse removal and street cleaning. All of these, they said, need to be treated equally and eventually need to cover all their expenses.
In the end, the status quo prevailed but council members included a promise that well before next year’s event they would discuss taking another step toward cutting the city subsidy completely.