Apparently, the Sawdust Days Executive Board believes that it can dictate to the Oshkosh Common Council how it does business. In a letter to Council members and City Manager Mark Rohloff dated August 17th and obtained by WOSH News, The board sets a September 18th deadline to receive a FIVE YEAR exemption from the city's special events fee it claims it was promised by the Council in 2010 and 2011--or it will disband the festival effective immediately.
In doing a database search of our stories in 2010 and 2011, I cannot find any reference to the Oshkosh Common Council approving a five-year waiver of the special events fee for Sawdust Days. Did one Councillor during debate say that the city should grant a waiver? Perhaps he did--but as anyone who has ever dealt with government or lawyers knows: if it ain't in writing, it doesn't exist.
And issuing the ultimatum barely two months after being warned that this is the last year the fee would be waived shows the Sawdust Days board did not take a serious look at ways to generate revenue to pay for that expense going forward. We hear from the Sawdust Days apologists all the time about how they have the "best Cajun music festival in the Midwest" and that "people come from all across the area to hear these bands". Well if someone is willing to travel that far to listen, they probably will be more than willing to pay a few bucks to get in the tent. I've attended dozens of music festivals throughout the Midwest and they all have one thing in common--they charge admission. And if it's such a cherished event, it should have no problem continuing at the Leach Amphitheater--where the infrastructure is already in place for live performances. The same goes for Sabor y Mexico as well. But it's obvious, that option was not considered.
The same goes for charging the vendors more to peddle their junk at Sawdust Days as well. Councillor Deb Allison-Aasby pointed out in the last debate over the fee waiver that the fee charged to set up on the grounds is much lower than similar events around the state. Did the Sawdust Days board have a serious discussion about bringing that fee up to modern levels? I doubt they did.
So here's how I think the Council should handle this ultimatum from the Sawdust Days folks: Don't even wait for September 18th to settle this. At the next meeting--August 28th--pass a resolution directing City Manager Mark Rohloff and Parks Director Ray Maurer to begin planning for a ONE DAY 4th of July Fireworks display event in Menominee Park.
City Manager Rohloff can continue to budget the $12,500 the city has paid for its half of the fireworks display (which has been "credited" to Sawdust Days the past few years in lieu of paying the special events fee even though it does not contribute dollar one to the fireworks) and he can call Rick VanderLoop over at Festival to confirm that that wonderful community partner will continue to pick up the rest of the cost.
Parks director Maurer can start work next Wednesday contacting service groups to operate one food stand on the north end of the park on the 4th another stand on the south end of the park--with service to begin at 4:00 on the 4th. He can also contact the Kettle Corn guy and the Roasted Almonds guy to set up their stands as well.
No midway rides, no Cajun Music, no Buckskinners Camp, no beer tents, no Mexicana stage, no guy selling counterfeit Apple products, no t-shirt stands, no cowboy hat vendors. Just a few things to eat and drink and the same fireworks display that has been drawing thousands for decades--and just like they have in Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Fond du Lac and hundreds of other cities around Wisconsin. And, since Sawdust Days was contributing nothing toward the public services provided to its event, shortening the demand for those services from five days (plus set up and clean up) to just one day--the City comes out net ahead on the expenses.
So please Oshkosh Common Council call the Sawdust Days Board bluff and tell them that the taxpayers will not grant them a one-year--much less a five year waiver--from being accountable for its expenses. And if they decide to take their football and go home--then we will survive. We are "Event City" after all--and there are plenty of other things to do around here.