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Tribune Editorial: County out of line with steep new festival fees

A pie in the face to Becker County commissioners for picking on the 10,000 Lakes Festival.

We agree with the owners of FACE, Inc., the umbrella organization for the WE Fest and 10,000 Lakes Festival concerts, who feel that Becker County is singling them out for high annual planning and zoning fees.

Their costs rose from a total of $1,000 last year to $24,000 this year.

The bulk of that is a "supplemental fee" of $20,000 each year to defray unspecified county costs associated with the 10,000 Lakes Fest.

In addition to that, 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.

FACE, Inc. pays thousands of dollars each year in separate contracts for county law enforcement on top of that.

We don't take issue with the law enforcement contracts, which compensates the sheriff's department for overtime pay and other costs associated with maintaining a police presence at the festivals.

But we believe the county overstepped with the $20,000 annual fee.

Judging by a letter from FACE, Inc. attorney Lynn Hummel, the county attempted to use a conditional use permit issued to the Soo Pass Ranch as leverage in negotiations for high fees.

The conditional use permit, issued when WE Fest started in 1983, allows up to five events per year to be held at the Soo Pass Ranch.

The higher fees are unfair -- the festivals are operating legally under the auspices of the conditional use permit, which has not been violated.

It's also an economic development issue.

FACE, Inc. says the economic impact of WE Fest and 10,000 Lakes Fest is over $20 million per year and that its 2007 employee payroll was $1.9 million.

The Soo Pass Ranch's 2008 property tax bill, with special assessments, is more than $64,000.

All that adds up to a huge benefit to Becker County, and more than offsets local costs associated with the concert events.

Government ought not to forget that.