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City, DPAO bicker over new concert fees

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Just a day before concert tickets were to go on sale on Friday, Disabled Persons Action Organization officials learned of a new $2,575 fee the city is implementing for the summer concert season at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

DPAO board member Charles W. Palmatier said Friday that he was surprised to hear the city has decided to charge the $2,575.20 — or $643 per concert — for sewer hookups to trailers that will be used as entertainer dressing rooms. He was especially surprised by the timing of the fees.

The organization never had a chance to discuss the new fee with the city before it was notified about it, he said. Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner sent an email to DPAO officials Thursday outlining all of the city’s fees for this year.

“At this point, we think we take all the risks,” Mr. Palmatier said, adding that the costs for the concerts are exorbitant and only the DPAO stands to lose money on them.

Last year, the city began charging RV fees to park the trailers there — $20 a day for electrical hookup and $10 without, Mrs. Gardner said.

With the escalating fee costs, DPAO may consider looking at other venues and moving the concerts from the fairgrounds, Mr. Palmatier said.

For years, DPAO has presented summer concerts at the fairgrounds as fundraisers to pay for services it provides to its 500 clients and their families. Mr. Palmatier contends the shows help a lot of people who live in Watertown.

In recent years, DPAO has expressed concerns about escalating fees for food concessions, parking and other items.

On Friday, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said DPAO has made complaints in the past about fees. He declined to comment beyond saying, “This has become a part of the regular discourse, so I’m not going to engage in the back-and-forth.”

The organization has not signed a contract with the city yet, and the first concert is scheduled for May 25.

On Friday, Mrs. Gardner defended the way she had handled the fees situation, saying that she contacted DPAO officials about the coming contract March 13 and never received a response.

As for the sewer and electrical hookups, she decided to charge for the cost of the labor and material costs. It takes four city employees about 10 hours to complete the work for the hookups, she said.

“It’s not my job to waive fees,” she said, adding the agency can go to City Council members to make those requests.

In the past, DPAO officials have gone to individual council members to have fees waived, she said.

Many of the new and increased fees came as a result of a series of policy and procedural changes that council members implemented after they learned two years ago about financial turmoil that the Parks Department went through.

The council subsequently brought in a new management team to run the Parks Department.

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