Parading, but not on the city's dime

(CHARLES FOX / Staff photographer)

Sure, many Philadelphians love a parade, but should taxpayers have to fund the events?

Parades are a part of the city's rich history and culture, from the Mummers strutting on New Year's Day to the St. Patrick's Day parade and others that celebrate ethnic pride. But in this tough economic climate, parades - while enjoyable - are costly luxuries.

For years, the city has spent about $3 million in annual parade costs for police overtime and cleanup. But in the wake of last year's economic collapse, Mayor Nutter ended the free ride for parades.

Now, Nutter wants to enforce a policy drafted during the Rendell administration in 1993 that requires every procession to pay the full city costs. The edict follows other cities that reached similar cost-saving conclusions in recent years. Baltimore, Chicago, and San Antonio charge for cleanup or police costs.

The cutbacks in funding forced Columbus Day Festival organizers to cancel their parade this month. Others are scrambling to raise money to stay afloat - pun intended.

Some parade organizers are rankled and have threatened to take their events outside the city to neighboring counties. Somehow, marching through downtown Media doesn't have much pizzazz.

Others argue that they pay taxes and shouldn't have to pay more for the parade. The city's budget troubles are making for hard choices. In a perfect world, the mayor would find less noticeable cuts or more efficiencies in the bureaucracy. But at the same time the parades aren't a guaranteed right.

No doubt there will be even more complaints about the loss of city funding for community events that draw thousands to watch a parade march along the Ben Franklin Parkway or down neighborhood streets.Perhaps once the economy improves, the city will be able to provide some funding again. In the meantime, the city's economic troubles provide an opportunity for creative thinking by parade organizers.

One step is to seek private funding from big and small donors. Boscov's helped save the annual Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade a few years ago. Likewise, the owners of The Inquirer helped bail out the St. Patrick's Day parade this year.Another is to perhaps sell tickets to the event. That way those who enjoy and benefit from the parade will be the ones who also pay for it.

One option for some of the smaller parades is to hold less costly festivals in a park or neighborhood that demand fewer resources.Parade organizers, especially the Mummers, could easily reduce the city's costs for police overtime and trash pickup by scaling down the size of the event and shortening the parade route.

Shortening the route would also help reduce some of the drunkenness and fights that erupt, costing the city time and money. A couple of hours for the Mummers should be enough to ooh and ahh over dazzling costumes, music, and floats. It should be a parade, not an all-day marathon.

Better yet, replace the big production parades with smaller less costly but entertaining festivals in a park that demand fewer resources.

The Mummers pulled off a shorter but still overly long parade this year in an effort to cut costs. The various string bands and others competed largely for bragging rights, since the city cut off the $350,000 in prize money.

That's a big expense for taxpayers. The city forgave about $300,000 in police and cleanup fees because of the short notice it gave on ending the funding, but says that won't happen again.

The bottom line is that organizers need to fund-raise and find other ways to survive for now. Welcome to the new economic reality. For those who enjoy the parade revelry, this is a good time to show your loyalty and support.