Last week, Keene officials issued a hefty bill for city services during the Pumpkin Festival and the riots that erupted outside the annual event’s footprint. But many people say the wrong group’s getting stuck with the tab.
The city billed festival organizer Let It Shine $90,662 for the cost of overtime for public safety and public works staff from Keene and surrounding towns that came to the festival and stayed to handle the parties and riots that broke out near Keene State College starting that afternoon.
The nonprofit organization has 30 days to pay up, according to the licensing agreement Let It Shine Secretary and Treasurer John F. Hayes signed in October.
And whether Let It Shine is able to do so will likely determine whether it will be able to host the festival next year, according to City Councilor Terry M. Clark.
Let It Shine gets revenue from the festival through sources such as donations and sponsorship from local and national businesses, which it has used to pay off the public safety cost in previous years.
The organization’s board members and its director, Ruth Sterling, have not reported how much revenue it raised this year.
Hayes declined last week to comment about the bill from the city. And Lisa Edwards, the chairwoman of the Let It Shine board, said by email Tuesday that she had not seen the invoice and thus couldn’t speak to it.
Whether Let It Shine asks for help or asks for an easement from the City Council is up to them, according to City Manager John A. MacLean.
“We’re doing it the way we normally do it,” he said Tuesday. “The invoice now presents everyone with the billable cost relative to the security of the festival, and now it’s only fair to give everyone the opportunity to talk about it and have a conversation moving forward.”
And people are having that conversation.
More than 130 people have commented on a Sentinel Facebook post with a report of this year’s bill to Let It Shine, most pointing fingers at the college and the people who have been arrested in connection with the riots.
Crowds of college-age people have come each year on the weekend of the festival to the areas near campus for parties planned to coincide with the official October event.
The thousands that came this year gathered in yards and streets and began throwing beer bottles, cans and other objects into the air and at police. Rioters also uprooted street signs and flipped at least one car.
City officials haven’t released figures about the cost of property damage in Keene.
Police have arrested dozens in connection with the riots, many of whom were identified as Keene State students. The school has since expelled two of the people arrested and many more face additional punishment through the college’s judicial system.
“(The Pumpkin Festival) should sue the kids charged to reclaim the extra money used to keep their bad behavior in check,” one person wrote on Facebook.
“You billed who??” wrote another.
“I did not see any riots at the pumpkin festival but I did see a riot at KSC, the bill should go to KSC,” said a third.
Keene resident Andi Johnson echoed those thoughts in an interview Monday, and added that individuals charged in connection with the riots should also be asked to contribute.
“Not only Keene State, but the kids who got arrested should pay, too,” she said. “It didn’t happen within the footprint of the festival.”
College spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte declined to comment last week on the bill to Let It Shine, and declined to comment Tuesday on whether the college bears responsibility for the cost.
“Let It Shine has the bill,” she said. “The college has not received additional information, so at this time, I don’t have more to share.”
Let It Shine pays the city a portion of the overtime cost every year, shelling out more than $50,000 in previous years as part of its licensing agreement with the city.
The city itself contributes a portion of the total cost in in-kind contributions, this year agreeing through the City Council to pay $57,000 toward the cost of law enforcement and public works overtime.
Because police and fire officers from Keene and surrounding towns who were on duty for this year’s festival had to stay additional hours to help address the chaos, the total cost of overtime for police, fire and public works staff hit $147,662 — heftier than previous years’ by more than $53,000.
That, in turn, brought up the size of the bill to Let It Shine.
City Finance Director Steven Thornton said the department expects Let It Shine to pay in full.
Councilor Clark said pointing fingers at the college was making it a “scapegoat” for costs which Let It Shine agreed to pay before this year’s festival.
“Keene State College did not vote to have a pumpkin festival,” he said.