New London - Every year since 2003, New London Main Street and the city have hung banners on light poles downtown in an effort to promote local business and help create a sense of community pride.
Main Street designs and sells the banners to businesses, and the city provides the manpower to install them on poles along Eugene O'Neill Drive, Gov. Winthrop Boulevard, Bank and State streets and some other secondary streets. Last year's banners featured New London Harbor Light.
But this year, for the first time, the city wants to charge Main Street between $6,000 and $9,000 to hang the 55 banners that feature a graphic of the Coast Guard Barque Eagle and the name of the sponsor that bought the banner.
Main Street sold the banners for $350 each, which covers the cost of production. No allowance was made for installation fees.
If the banners are not hung and Main Street is forced to reimburse $18,700 to the businesses that purchased them, Main Street would no longer exist, Penny Parsekian, chief executive officer of Main Street said Wednesday.
"It would bankrupt our organization,'' she said
Tammy Daugherty, the mayor's office administrator and his liaison to Main Street, said that in order to the get the banners up before OpSail, which starts July 6, the work would have to be done on overtime.
Parsekian said her agency does not have the money in its budget for installation costs.
"We are a nonprofit organization,'' she said. "We finish each year with zero money. The city is asking us to operate at a deficit."
On Monday, Parsekian appealed to the City Council.
"(The banners) really will make a difference in the visitors' experience,'' Parsekian told the council. "It re-enforces the OpSail tall ship theme and really is a source of community branding and community pride."
While the council cannot direct the mayor to do anything, the seven councilors agreed unanimously to ask the city to make the installation a priority.
Jane Glover, the city's chief operating officer, said at the meeting that the city is prioritizing public works jobs, and would considering putting the banners at the top of the list.
"But the administration does not want to be chastised when the grass is not cut or the lines (in the road) are not drawn,'' she said.
Council President Michael Passero sent a note to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio Tuesday requesting "the Administration talk with the Public Works Director as to the feasibility of getting the banners put up in a timely fashion."
"I'm hoping the city gets it done,'' Passero said Wednesday.
Zak Leavy, executive assistant to the mayor, said Wednesday the city is weighing its options and has not made a decision.
Parsekian learned in January that the city was considering charging Main Street for the installation. Public Works Director Tim Hanser told Parsekian in an email that the city was reviewing "past practices" and might be making adjustments.
Hanser wrote in the Jan. 18 email that the discussions were preliminary but that he would keep the agencies involved informed.
Parsekian said she was told months later that the city would charge Main Street $202 per banner for installation. The city eventually halved the cost to $101 per banner and asked Main Street for that amount. Parsekian worked out an arrangement for a private contractor to donate time to install the banners, but Daugherty said the public works union would not agree to have the work done by an outside agency.
Because the banners must be hung before OpSail, Daugherty said, Main Street would have to pay an additional 30 percent for overtime.
"Without your help, these banners will end up sitting in the lobby of our building in boxes,'' Parsekian told the council. "… We are requesting your assistance in helping to resolve this situation, either by securing permission to allow us to install the banners on our own or (to) waive the city fee."
When Finizio took office in December, one of his objectives was to get the various downtown associations to work together. His budget proposed to cut the city's previous Main Street contribution of $80,000 to $25,000. The City Council upped the contribution to $40,000.