Earlier this month, the City of Oshkosh filed a small claims lawsuit against the founder of the Downtown Pub Crawl--Joe Kubiak--for the remaining balance of the special event permit fee that no one bothered to take out for the event this spring. It's the latest in a series of threats, legal maneuvers and pleadings out of City Hall--that have included members of the Common Council claiming that Kubiak was "holding the city hostage." City Manager Mark Rohloff and City Attorney Lynn Lorenson likely chose this legal route because it involves just one court case--whereas sending the bill to all of the bars that took part in the Crawl would result in multiple lawsuits--likely to drag on for years.
Tonight, the Oshkosh Advisory Parks Board will vote on establishing it's own set of special event fees for groups that take up large portions of parks for their events. This fee will ostensibly make up for the revenue lost when the city can't rent out shelters and pavilions for smaller events on those same days. Needless to say, this will be seen as another attack on Sawdust Days--which ties up nearly all of Menominee Park for five days--and will cost them additional thousands of dollars.
And then last week, the city announced that it was issuing a notice of non-renewal for the lease at the Grand Opera House. Officials would like to discuss the use of hotel room taxes to fund the Grand--a term that was put into the original lease and allowed to just rollover for 20-years. Apparently, the folks at the Oshkosh Visitors and Convention Bureau are questioning if that is really the best use of that revenue.
But as soon as I heard about the room tax for the Grand--and the 120-thousand dollars it generated last year--a solution to the special event permit fee fiasco popped into my head: Take the money currently going to the Grand and apply it to all of the city services currently being funded by the special event permit fee! No more "being held hostage" by Joe Kubiak, no more Sawdust Days trying to beg out of its permit fee--and then slow-paying the bill. Given that those two events seem to be the most expensive each year--120-thousand bucks should be more than enough to cover the costs for everything going on in town annually.
Now I'm sure the CVB won't be on-board with that plan. They likely want the room tax to expand their marketing of the Convention Center, now that Appleton is stepping up its game with plans for a downtown exhibition center and Green Bay is expanding the KI convention center. There are just so many Northeast Wisconsin Association of Mechanical Engineers conferences and Benevolent Protective Order of Elks conventions out there--and the competition is getting tougher to land them. But using the room tax for police, public works and fire emergency services provides a much greater direct benefit to the taxpayers of Oshkosh.
As for the Grand's lost revenue, the Common Council can just add on to the facility fee charged on every ticket. Believe me, the Meyer Theater in Green Bay and the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee charge almost as much to get in the building as they do to let you see the band.
It's not often that a simple and common sense solution to government problems pops up like this. Hopefully those in power are smart enough to recognize it.