Police balk at bill for festival

SEAMUS BOYER
Last updated 07:01 28/11/2012

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A hefty public bill for policing a New Year music festival has rekindled debate about whether police should be able to recover costs from event organisers.

Wairarapa police are expecting to face costs of at least $50,000 for dozens of officers to work at this year's La De Da Festival near Martinborough in late December.

All the money will come out of local police budgets.

"It's a significant drain on our resources," said Senior Sergeant Carolyn Watson, head of policing for the event.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said it was accepted that the police's job was to be wherever disorder was likely to be.

But when that event was "a pure money-maker and, particularly in a remote setting . . . I think there's a good case for cost recovery".

"It's the rest of the Wairarapa that is missing out, if not at new year's then during the rest of the year because the budget is gone."

Police in some Australian states can charge for their services for commercial or sporting events. New South Wales police charge A$110 per officer per hour, as well as charging up to A$34 an hour for any vehicles required.

Their website said that while "most policing services [are] free of charge", there were times when clients needed to pay for services to meet their "responsibilities to the community".

Police Minister Anne Tolley yesterday ruled out looking at cost recovery for events.

"Members of the public deserve the right to be kept safe by our police, whether they are inside or outside the gates of a festival."

La De Da is at Daisy Bank Farm on December 30 and 31. Ms Watson said up to 35 officers would work on December 30, 50 on New Year's Eve, and 14 more on New Year's Day.

Twenty-five would have to be given accommodation and meal allowances. All those working on January 1 would be paid time and a half, and would receive a day off in lieu.

Ms Watson said that, while supporting festivals such as La De Da was one of the roles of the police in maintaining public safety, it came with a large bill, and officers from the Wellington district were having to help out.

Mr O'Connor distinguished La De Da from festivals such as Toast Martinborough, which he called a community event. "When you get an event that is public and benefits the population . . . the whole community benefits from it."

Festival director Josh Mossman said La De Da received no council funding, unlike events such as Wellington's Homegrown.

"Without sounding like a crusading warrior and putting a halo round my head, we are providing a community service . . . we're providing a safe environment where people can go and enjoy themselves."

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The event was worth between $1 million and $3m to the local community, and put Martinborough on the map to many domestic tourists outside the Wellington region, he said.

Organisers spent up to $75,000 on event security, including providing up to 100 security guards.

Mr Mossman said he would fight "tooth and nail" to oppose any measure allowing police to recover costs. "As a democratic country . . . we have a right to feel secure in any environment we are, whether we're sitting in a house in Wellington on New Year's Eve . . . or we're lying in a tent in a farm in Martinborough."

Contact Seamus Boyer
Wairarapa reporter
Email: seamus.boyer@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @SeamusBoyer

- The Dominion Post

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