What's the cost of your favorite event in Mill Creek?
It depends on how you ask
Last updated 1/17/2020 at 2:26pm
How much of the City's resources really go into preparing for some of Mill Creek's community events like Eggstravaganza, the Memorial Day parade, Run of the Mill, or Pianos on Main?
It depends on how you ask, and how you look at the numbers.
Gordon Brink, a city communications coordinator, presented the city council with a spreadsheet of the costs of each City- and privately sponsored events that use City resources.
The spreadsheet (which can be found online in the council's meeting minutes archive) listed both the "hard" and "soft" costs associated with each event. The hard costs referred to materials the City had to write a check for. The soft costs referred to the number of hours city staff estimated they spent on an event, multiplied by a $100 per hour pay rate. Brink explained the rate was an average since directors, managers, and coordinators (all with different pay levels) worked on a project. Staff was not paid extra to work on an event.
Brink said the cost only reflected the number of hours allocated to the event – promotion, setting out traffic cones, etc. – and that the staff would incur the same cost for those hours to the City's budget if they were working on an event or not.
However, councilmembers disagreed with how the numbers were presented. There were two trains of thought: staff hours (and therefore staff costs) should be counted toward the total cost of an event, or they should not. "'It's a little misleading when you look at it," Councilmember John Steckler said of the report's presentation of staff hours and their impact on an event's total price tag. He wanted to see the hard and soft costs separated, although he agreed that staff hours should be counted.
After a lengthy discussion, the problem boiled down how some councilmembers did not agree with how staff time was being treated as a monetary cost for an event.
Some councilmembers argued that including the monetary cost of staff time devoted to working on an event made the event's costs higher than it actually was.
"I struggle with this notion that this is a cost to the City," Mayor Pro-tem Brian Holtzclaw said. "This isn't additional costs to us; it's just the amount of resources we already paid for, by paying for employee salaries."
For example, the report said the egg-hunting event, Eggstravaganza in April, cost the City $17,006. Part of that cost came from 143 staff hours from communications and marketing, public works and the police departments – for a total of $14,300. The total hard costs (plastic eggs, jelly beans, a balloonist, etc.) came to only $2,706.
Councilmember Mark Bond said that the cost associated with having police officers at that event was not incurred by the City specifically for that event. "[The officer] is just doing the community-order policing thing that he would do whether he was at Eggstravanagza or not," Bond said. "Based on what (Police Chief Greg Elwin) said, we can pull that (number) out of there and just say that's not really a cost we incurred there because we're not assigning extra bodies."
Mayor Pam Pruitt did not think that way.
"I disagree. I think having the personnel costs in here is important for cost accounting, but that could be because I'm a former accountant," the mayor said. "We don't have to consider it, but I believe it belongs in here because in cost accounting we say these are our costs."
She also referenced the way employee hours were tracked when Public Works Director Gina Hortillosa said the department needed to hire another employee, which councilmembers later gave approval for.
Councilmember Vince Cavaleri reminded the council that the costs for community events had already impacted the budget that they had already approved.
"I understand and I respect the concept of having everything allocated and everything shown. I think there's a financial responsibility the City has to try to show that." These events that are here, for the most part, we have already agreed (to pay) for this biennium budget."
"Right now, there's an expectation with the public, and with some on the council, that this is what we've said we're going to do within the constraints of this budget, and that's what we're going to do. It's my opinion but I think that's being a person of your word, as well," he added. Councilmember Steckler pointed out how the large cost of events may be seen by others.
"We see a big number and we're afraid – 'it's just so darn expensive maybe we shouldn't do that,' when in fact we wouldn't even save any money if we didn't do it. We'd save hours, but we wouldn't save money."
He then highlighted one of the report's positive findings. "When you look at the at of hard costs you have against these events, it is minimal. It's minimal. We are doing so many events to build community in Mill Creek and the actual cost of it is relatively low – it's extremely low."
Holtzclaw agreed and said the benefits of the community events outweighed the costs.
"There is nothing on this list that I would advocate we not support (with) our staff resources for 2020."
In the end, the council took no action, and the calendar was left the same.
The City spent $250,627* on City-sponsored events and $74,400 on privately sponsored events.
List of City-sponsored events
Eggstravaganza ($17,006); Art Walks ($1,600); Memorial Day events ($49,597)*; Farmers Market ($19,242); Pianos on Main ($4,660); Party in the Parks ($22,400); 3 on 3 Basketball ($30,900); National Night Out ($11,100; excludes material costs); Run with Heart ($14,500); Trunk or Treat ($12,000);Veterans Day events ($49,992)*; Tree Lighting ($17,630).
List of privately sponsored events
Day of Hope ($6,300); Run of the Mill ($24,800); Mill Creek Festival ($24,500); Hispanic Heritage Parade ($5,400); Shred It ($2,300; shared expense with City); Treats on Main ($6,100); Santa Parade ($5,000).
Editor's note: There was an error in the report that changed the total amount spent for City-sponsored events. For both the Memorial Day and Veterans Day events, the report said Jon Ramer was paid $22,000 each for "professional services." In reality, Ramer was paid $11,000 per event, Brink said during the council meeting. Brink told the Beacon that Ramer organized the events by finding people to be in the parade, invited dignitaries, coordinated flyovers, and sent thank-you notes, among other tasks. Brink told us the total amount the City spent on City-sponsored events should be decreased by $22,00 due to the error. We wanted to clarify if readers look at the report online and see a difference in the Beacon's story.
Link to Mill Creek City Council meeting agenda containing the report: https://www.cityofmillcreek.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_9100852/File/Agendas%20and%20Minutes/Agendas/2020/Revised%20Regular%20Council%20Meeting%20-%2014%20Jan%202020.pdf