City irked over fair fees
By Josh O’Gorman
STAFF WRITER | May 08,2013
The city might make the state fair pay its fees up front — or even turn off its water and sewer — as the city struggles to collect the money it’s owed from last year.
The Rutland County Agricultural Society, which owns the fairgrounds and operates the Vermont State Fair — owes the city $66,735 in business license fees, police and fire protection, and water and sewer services.
City Treasurer Wendy Wilton brought the issue to the Board of Alderman during its meeting Monday night.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Alderman John Cassarino. “They promised us $66,000 and haven’t paid. Why haven’t we turned off their water?”
Wilton told the board her office has been sending bills to fair officials since the 2012 fair ended in early September and has not received any payment. The fair owes the city money for the following:
$15,700 for the business license
$11,579 for fire protection
$21,235 for police protection
$13,541 for water and sewer
$4,680 in interest and penalties
“If this were you or I, our water and sewer would be turned off,” said Alderman Ed Larson.
Richard Rivers, the fair’s general manager, said Tuesday the city would receive payment soon.
“The city, in a very short period of time, is going to receive the payment, as they have this time every year, so I’m not sure why this is coming up now,” Rivers said.
“I’m stunned this became an issue because I’m here five days a week and have never received a phone call from Wendy Wilton,” he said.
Wilton took issue with Rivers’ implication she had not reached out to him.
“Why do I have to call him when I send him a statement every month?” she asked.
Mayor Christopher Louras took exception to Rivers’ statement that the fair could pay its fees eight months after the end of the fair as a matter of practice.
“I don’t accept the premise of stiffing the city as ‘business as usual,’” Louras said. “Last summer, we — the city and the fair — had a very lively discussion about the fair being in arrears and we were given assurances they would not be in arrears going forward.”
The city did not receive payment in full for the 2011 fair until June 2012.
In years past, the city has issued a business license to the fair with the understanding that it would pay the fee, which was set by the Board of Alderman, after the fair.
“My preference is that for the 2013 fair we be paid in advance for services rendered,” Louras said.
Wilton concurred with Louras.
“When you have a customer who is not in great shape financially, you ask for a pre-payment,” Wilton said.
Rivers said his organization would have no problem paying its fees in advance.
“That’s totally fine with us. That’s the way it’s always been in the past, but it was always difficult to get accurate numbers because the police and fire are billed at an hourly rate,” Rivers said. “We’ve been here since 1846 and we always pay our bills.”