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Re-enactment organizers drop reimbursement bid

November 21, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Dennis Frye, a co-organizer of the 140th Anniversary Commemoration of the Battle of Antietam, was paid $30,000 for his role in the event, and the man who supplied most of the land for the weekend was paid nearly $50,000, Frye said.

The event's budget finished with a $38,637 shortfall, according to event documents. The event's co-organizers, Frye and Robert Arch, asked the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday for $23,930 to pay for some of that shortfall.

Frye and Arch withdrew the request for more funding after there was a motion on the table to deny it.

The event's expenses totaled $936,436.

Of the amount requested from the commissioners, $17,380 would have gone toward overtime expenses for Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies who worked the event and $6,550 for a mulch bill from the county.

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The money would have been in addition to the $25,000 in fiscal year 2002 and the $25,000 in fiscal year 2003 that the commissioners contributed from hotel/motel tax revenue.

Frye said Wednesday the $30,000 he received came from sponsorship dollars he obtained for the event, not tax dollars. He compared the payment to the first year's salary of a school teacher without benefits.

"I served as a teacher educating tens of thousands of people about Antietam," Frye said. "The re-enactment was my classroom."

He said he served as a promoter for Washington County and helped bring in tens of thousands of dollars.

Frye said Frank Artz, who provided 500 acres for the event outside of Hagerstown, was paid $49,700. Frye said that expense was for renting Artz's land and enabling Artz to recoup the money lost from not being able to plant crops on about 130 acres because of the re-enactment.

Artz said Wednesday he didn't make any profit on the decision to permit his land to be used for the re-enactment. Part of the money went toward the crops payment, and he split the rest of the compensation with Steve Beckley, who works the land for him, Artz said.

Artz said he didn't charge rent for the land.

Frye said other event staff members were paid, but he didn't know how much.

Frye and Arch blamed the event's budget shortfall on rain that was forecast for the event's final day, which kept spectators away. The event was held during the weekend of Sept. 13.

About 8,000 people visited on Friday, between 32,000 to 35,000 on Saturday and just about 4,000 on Sunday.

"Sunday was just a bust because of the bad weather," Frye said. "None of the re-enactors were killed, but the weather killed the event."

He said organizers faced the shortfall because the county donated overtime costs and the mulch bill for the 135th event, but charged them this time around.

Commissioner John Schnebly said Wednesday that he couldn't recall the organizers asking for those costs to be donated for the 140th event.

"At no time did they say, 'We'd like money - plus, could you help us with the sheriff? Could you help us with the mulch?'" he said.

He said the commissioners assumed that the county's $50,000 contribution was a fair share.

Frye said that despite the low attendance on the final day, the re-enactment gave Washington County international attention and visitors pumped more than $1 million dollars into the local economy.

Ben Hart, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, has estimated people spent about $1.5 million to $2 million in the county during the three-day event.

Without the additional funding from the commissioners, Frye said the county won't likely get paid for the overtime costs and mulch bill.

"There's not enough money in the treasury to pay those two bills," Frye said.

Schnebly and Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz said the county would have been out money whether they gave the organizers additional funding or not, since the county previously paid for the mulch and the overtime costs for the deputies.

"They're basically saying there's a chance you won't get this paid if you don't give us the money," Schnebly said.

Schnebly said, however, he assumes the commissioners would try to collect the money from the organizers if it's possible.

The commissioners on Tuesday said they opposed contributing additional money because they wanted a more detailed breakdown of the expenses, they felt the taxpayers had already put enough money into the event and that contributing anything else would have been an invitation for other event organizers to seek financial help from the county.

"Are we going to say yes to everything?" Swartz asked.

"I really think it's a bad precedent ... to support additional funding for this," Schnebly said.

Swartz said Wednesday night he didn't think the event was properly planned, which also led to his objection of providing additional funding.

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