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Editorial: Taxpayers get pass on paying for marathon

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THERE is little doubt that the upcoming Mill Race Marathon will have a tremendous economic impact on Columbus and Bartholomew County.

While organizers predict that there should be a significant bonus from having thousands of participants and onlookers descend on the city, there also will be some costly expenses associated with providing adequate security, maintaining traffic flow (for runners and walkers as well as motorists) and cleaning up afterward.

The good news is that taxpayers won’t have to bear the cost of providing those services.

Make no mistake, those costs are going to be significant. During the Sept. 28 marathon, 26 paramedics and emergency medical technicians will be on extra duty, nearly the entire police force will be working, and a six-person city garage crew will work a 15-hour shift, city officials said. The city also will have its regular roster of officers and firefighters on duty, to cover anything else that might come up during the event.

City officials estimate the involvement will cost an additional $37,000 in overtime payments and equipment allocations.

None of that money is expected to come from the city treasury. Instead, it and additional costs incurred by other government units will be covered by sponsors of the event and entry fees paid by participants.

The practice of providing these services for major events is rooted in local tradition. Both city and county police are routinely called on to provide assistance during major community events, such as blocking streets, providing security patrols and serving as crossing guards.

For most community events, these services can be folded into the regular routines of public employees without any appreciable added costs.

Events such as the upcoming marathon and the annual Ethnic Expo are a different matter. The size of the crowds at these kinds of events requires local governments to plan overtime and even secure specialized equipment. In light of what happened at the Boston Marathon, added measures have been put in place.

For local governments to absorb those costs would have been an enormous strain on their budgets. Thanks to a change in city policy in 2009 under the administration of Fred Armstrong, that is no longer the case.

Because of its tightened budget, the city had to drop its sponsorship of the annual Ethnic Expo event. Fortunately, businesses stepped in to rescue the event and agreed to reimburse the city for any public expenses incurred. That same approach was employed for the marathon.

In the end, this arrangement contributes to the success of the event and does not leave any taxpayers with a bad taste.

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