Trump rally to cost Erie at least $21,000

  • 12/10/2018
Trump rally to cost Erie at least $21,000
Mayor Joe Schember believes the money, almost all overtime pay for police, firefighters and public works employees, is unlikely to be recouped.

President Donald Trump's Make America Great Again rally on Wednesday drew thousands of people to downtown Erie, forced the closure of a number of local streets and mandated ramped-up security.

The event also had a fiscal effect on the city of Erie, and Mayor Joe Schember is unsure whether that money can be recouped from the Trump campaign.

City officials on Thursday said that, based on preliminary estimates, the rally will cost the city at least $21,000, nearly all of that in overtime costs for city workers assigned to the event.

Other cities across the country have incurred significant costs, most of them related to public safety, when hosting Trump's rallies.

The city's overtime relates to police officers, firefighters, and Department of Public Works employees who worked the event, said Paul Lichtenwalter, the city's finance director. He acknowledged the final figure could be higher.

"These are rough numbers, and we're compiling the actual figures, which we should have in a day or two," Lichtenwalter said.

Lichtenwalter said that, although significant overtime was involved for a number of workers, many of those city employees did rally-related work at or near Erie Insurance Arena during part of their regular shifts.

Erie Bureau of Fire Chief Guy Santone said about 9,000 people were inside the arena for Trump's rally; at least another 3,000 who could not get in were outside. There were also hundreds of anti-Trump protesters downtown. No serious incidents or disturbances were reported.

Trump's 65-minute speech touched on various topics, including his administrations accomplishments. He urged the crowd to support GOP candidates Mike Kelly, Lou Barletta and Scott Wagner and criticized the Democratic Party, the media, Hillary Clinton and others.

Trump is not allowed, by law, to use federal taxpayer funds to pay for campaign rallies; they are paid for by Donald J. Trump for President Inc., the president's 202 re-election campaign committee.

That committee which currently has more than $33 million on hand, according to Federal Election Commission filings paid $17,500 to rent Erie Insurance Arena for the rally, said Casey Wells, executive director of Erie Events, which manages the arena.

Another $10,000 will be billed to the committee and other parties for "staffing and services provided by us" in relation to the event, Wells said.

"The $17,500 would have included essentially setup and teardown of the event, cleanup and the use of all of our in-house equipment," Wells said. "Some staffing and services were billed separately at hourly rates either to Donald J. Trump for President Inc. or to organizations and entities working with them on the event."

Wells said the U.S. Secret Service was in charge of security, so "no law enforcement services were coordinated by us or charged to them by us," although a few Erie Events security personnel worked the event.

The remaining costs, mostly for protection and security outside the arena, are the city's responsibility.

Schember said, "I don't know if we have the option" of recouping that money.

"It was a political event, but I stayed out of it and the Trump campaign never tried to contact me," Schember said. "I'm sure we have a lot of overtime, particularly in the police department. We had a lot of streets blocked off and someone had to put those barriers up.

"Every street in the city that crosses the Bayfront Highway from 26th street down to the bay was blocked off because they didn't want anyone accessing that while the president came through."

"It's probably something we have to bear," Schember said. "But it does seem like something his campaign should pay for."

A recent Citylab.com article stated that cities such as Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, have complained about being left with the bill for a Trump rally.

A 2017 Trump rally in Phoenix left that citys taxpayers saddled with $450,000 in traffic, security, and utility costs, according to the article.

Trump supporters, as well as some public officials throughout the country, have argued that cities have a responsibility to provide the necessary security for such an event.

Erie police Inspector Mark Sanders, serving as acting chief while Police Chief Dan Spizarny is out of town, said he couldn't be happier with how things turned out in the city during Trump's visit.

Sanders said the crowds of supporters who attended the rally and the crowds of people who went downtown to protest were well-behaved and got along with each other, and there was very little communication between the groups.

Sanders said city police made two arrests, one alcohol-related and the other for disorderly conduct.

"I was amazed. We were prepared for the worst, but it really came off better than some of the concerts (at Erie Insurance Arena)," Sanders said. "On our end, happily, it was a boring event."

The biggest issue that Sanders said he saw was the absence of restroom facilities for the large crowds of people who began gathering outside of the arena early Wednesday morning.

The Erie Bureau of Police had 96 of its officers working in various capacities during the event. They were assisted by the Pennsylvania State Police, the Erie County Sheriff's Office and Erie County detectives, Sanders said.

The Millcreek Township Police Department had about 30 officers from the 65-officer force working in various support roles during Trump's visit, Police Chief Scott Heidt said Thursday.

However, the department's overtime costs are minimal, Heidt said, as the bulk of the officers volunteered to switch their shifts.

In addition, troopers with Pennsylvania State Police Troop E, headquartered in Lawrence Park, augmented Secret Service agents and Erie police officers inside and outside the arena and worked escort duties during the president's visit, Troop E commander Capt. Dan Hines said.

State police costs related to the use of those officers were unavailable.

Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNflowers.

Tim Hahn can be reached at 870-1731 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNhahn.
  
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