Ohio Sauerkraut Festival operator gives Waynesville ultimatum

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Ohio Sauerkraut Festival operator gives Waynesville ultimatum

The operators of the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival have given the village council a week to set aside new rules for festival operators or to start looking for someone else to run the 48th annual event.

“Please advise by noon Tuesday, June 13, 2017, whether the Village is willing to renounce their previous demands. If not, or if I do not hear from you by the designated time, the Chamber will have to seriously consider canceling the Festival,” Martin Hubbell, lawyer for the Waynesville Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a letter sent Monday to Waynesville Law Director Jeff Forbes.

Mayor Dave Stubbs pledged the festival would “go on, even if I have to run it myself.”

Hubbell’s letter is the latest communication in a debate, preceding last year’s event, over the terms under which village police officers are retained as security for the festival, to be held on Oct. 14 and 15.

The chamber and village council have been at odds for the past year over the costs for and the liability for actions of police hired for security at the annual festival.

The annual festival supports local non-profit groups who operate booths and provide services at the well-known event that is said to draw more than 100,000 people a year to Waynesville.

The Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau rates the festival one of its top annual tourist attractions.

Last year, the village canceled the contract with the chamber for the festival, with three years remaining, following a disagreement over the charges and liability for police protection and other changes called for in the new regulations approved by the village council.

“All we’ve asked is the chamber pick up the same agreement the Waynesville schools have with us,” Stubbs said, adding other local groups had agreed to the new terms.

“There’s no risk here,” he added. “These agreements are used throughout Warren County.”

The terms include setting rates for villages services, including for police, and requiring the event organizers to be responsible for background checks on vendors and other participants.

While acknowledging the terms were similar to those with police agencies around the county - and state - Hubbell said they left individual non-profit board members individually responsible, in the event of a successful lawsuit.

“If another organization wants to take on that liability, have at it,” he said. “We hope the festival goes on.”

However Hubbell said no other group could step in.

“The sad truth is there is nobody else who can put this thing on,” he added.

In the letter to the village, Hubbell added, “an insurance company cannot issue a policy of insurance that complies with the demands made by the the village.”

The new rules also violate Ohio law by requiring the organization holding the festival to pay workers compensation, according to Hubbell.

Unless the village relents, the chamber is ready to “return all information and booth rent to the respective vendors” already planning to operate at the festival, Hubbell said in the letter.

Stubbs said record numbers had paid rents for booths. However he also said the chamber was without a director, since Dawn Schroeder has left the position.

Sue Blair, chamber president, and Lonnie Schear, the chamber board member in charge of the festival, could not be reached for comment.

Stubbs said neither Blair or Schear had mentioned their concerns to him recently. He said council was scheduled to discuss the letter at Monday’s meeting and he predicted the chamber would still put on the festival.

“Everything’s moving forward. I don’t understand this ripple at all,” Stubbs said.

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