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WE Fest, 10,000 Lakes Fest concert owners unhappy with steep county fees

For the promoters of WE Fest and the 10,000 Lakes Festival, the cost of doing business in Becker County has just gone up -- a lot.

Concert promoters will now pay $2,000 a year for WE Fest and another $2,000 a year for 10,000 Lakes Fest to defray the county's administrative costs of reviewing each year's mass gathering plan.

The annual cost has been $500 since the county first issued a conditional use permit to WE Fest in 1983.

But the biggest new cost to concert promoters will be a "supplemental fee" of $20,000 each year to defray county costs associated with the 10,000 Lakes Fest.

The contract doesn't specify what those expenses are, but commissioners in the past have reported costs associated with jail time, medical care and court cases related to concert patrons.

This is a new fee, not to be confused with the annual contract with the Becker County Sheriff's Department.

The conditional use permit allows up to five events per year to be held at the Soo Pass Ranch.

The County Board approved both contracts Tuesday.

Concert owners had already signed off on them. But not happily, if a letter from Detroit Lakes attorney Lynn Hummel is any indication.

"...your letter contains several comments that my client, FACE, Inc., has asked me to address," Hummel said in a letter to Assistant County Attorney Gretchen Thilmony.

"Your letter indicates that the County Board is reluctant to obligate future county boards. But this is done all the time by county boards, the U.S. Congress, our Legislature, city councils, school boards and even township boards whenever they pass laws or ordinances, issue bonds, build courthouse additions or make capital purchases or improvements. Units of government can't operate one year at a time.

"Your comment about amending the CUP ordinance suggests to FACE Inc. management that perhaps their efforts to present a balanced picture have not been heard.

"Of course there are expenses involved in promoting major events. But events such as the WE Fest bring millions of dollars into the county.

"The annual economic impact of FACE, Inc., is over $20 million. The 2007 employee payroll was $1.188 million. The County Board has received a detailed analysis of this economic impact. If this were called industrial development, the business would be eligible for subsidies and tax-increment financing. Cities build facilities (like the Fargo Dome and athletic arenas) to bring paying customers to the community.

"FACE, Inc., is not asking for preferential treatment, but does not wish to be penalized, either. When law enforcement is called to Wal-Mart or the tubing operation on the Ottertail River, those businesses are not subject to special assessments.

"FACE, Inc., believes that county costs associated with their events are more than offset by taxes paid and the overall economic impact to Becker County. What FACE, Inc., requests is that before the county moves to amend their CUP ordinances in the future, that FACE, Inc., is notified and given the opportunity to be heard and provide input for the decision makers.

"All this being said, FACE, Inc., appreciates very much the cooperation of the County Board, the Sheriff's Department, the county administrator and your office in supporting their events and working with them in a very positive and friendly manner."

At the County Board meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Barry Nelson thanked concert owners for "sitting down at the table with us," and working to improve all aspect of the events.

Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon said he sat in on the negotiations and the "key points were addressed very well."