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Irish upset over Salt Lake City’s ‘Tax for St. Pat’s’

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Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo The St. Patrick's Day Parade winds through The Gateway shopping center in 2011.

“Don’t Tax St. Pat’s” is the unofficial theme for Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Salt Lake City.

The Utah Hibernian Society has posted the slogan on its website and Facebook page, along with a plea for donations to cover a new police and security user fee imposed by Salt Lake City.

Hibernian President Richard O’Conner said the group needs to raise nearly $4,000 by Saturday, what he describes as a significant amount for an event “which already operates on a limited budget.”

O’Connor said the city “sprung the additional fee about a month ago,” creating a “red alert” for Utah’s favorite green event.

Art Raymond, spokesman for Mayor Ralph Becker, said the Hibernian Society and other groups that sponsor recurring events were sent letters last fall about the city’s new fee for “free expression” events.

Raymond said because of “budget challenges and the growing number of events that come on line every year,” the city decided to charge event organizers for police and fire costs.

“We needed to make it more of a user fee to recover the costs associated with these specific events,” he said.

Because most free expression events occur as the weather gets warmer, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is likely the first big event to have to pay the charge, said Raymond.

The fees will be universally applied to other upcoming events, from the Days of ’47 to Gay Pride parades.

“Every free expression group that requires city services will be assessed the associated fees,” Raymond said, adding that for many years the city has charged large commercial events, where admission is collected, as well as police and fire user fees.

Raymond said since “safety is the city’s first priority,” the police and fire departments will work with the organizers of the free community events to talk about the minimum support needed and fees that may be unnecessary.

“For example, when there’s a marathon, organizers want an officer at every intersection. But that’s more expensive than just putting a barrel up,” said Raymond.

That discussion has already happened for Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

According to the Hibernian Society website, the parade was initially charged $8,000, but the “police have rearranged their patrols to use fewer officers at this year’s parade than in years past.”

On its website, the Hibernian Society says it is not opposed to paying the fee and in the past has donated money to help cover the costs of cleaning the streets after the parade. “But slamming us with the full costs of police overtime with no notice? Our small organization doesn’t have that kind of money just lying around.”

kathys@sltrib.com

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