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updated: 1/21/2014 4:41 AM

Guadalupe organizers shocked by $30,000 Des Plaines police bill

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  • Pilgrims pray at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines in December. Organizers of the annual event say they were surprised when they received a $30,000 bill from the Des Plaines Police Department for handling traffic control.

       Pilgrims pray at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines in December. Organizers of the annual event say they were surprised when they received a $30,000 bill from the Des Plaines Police Department for handling traffic control.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer


Organizers of the Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day celebration in Des Plaines will meet with the top brass of the city's police department today to discuss the $30,000 bill the city sent for providing police traffic control during last month's event.

The staff at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on the campus of Maryville Academy, had sticker shock when they received the police department's invoice, since the previous year's bill was only about $2,500.

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But city officials say organizers of the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration, which attracts as many as 100,000 worshippers on Dec. 11 and 12 every year, were informed months before the event that the police department would be changing its billing procedures and they could anticipate a bill near $30,000.

The Rev. Marco Mercado, rector of the Our Lady shrine, said he doesn't remember hearing that figure during a meeting with police officials in October.

"It was never clear the bill would go up that much. That was never part of the conversation," Mercado said. "I think it was a miscommunication. That's why tomorrow (Tuesday) I'm hoping we'll straighten out things."

The price spike is the result of the way the city decided to bill event organizers this year, according to City Manager Mike Bartholomew.

In the past, the city charged organizers only for the staffing costs of extra "reserve" officers who were brought in specifically to handle the large crowds and traffic surrounding the event, Bartholomew said.

Meanwhile, officers normally scheduled to work on Dec. 11 and 12 were pulled off their regular assignments for the event, and city officials said the department incurred increased overtime costs as a result.

This year, police were asked to "volunteer" to work the event.

Those who did would receive time-and-a-half pay for it, officials said.

Bartholomew said the city's old billing arrangement with Our Lady of Guadalupe organizers was unique.

Other entities, including the Des Plaines Park District and St. Zachary Parish, have been charged the full price for police traffic control surrounding their festivals.

"(Police) Chief (William) Kushner wants everybody to play by exactly the same rules," Bartholomew said. "Maybe the previous chief thought the Guadalupe event was one of those events that's special and significant in Des Plaines -- and not that it isn't -- but for some reason they subsidized those more than others."

Mercado said he's hoping police officials today will provide some clarification on the bill.

If they tell him the bill will have to be paid in full, it's likely the church will do a special appeal for donations, since only about $5,000 was budgeted to pay the police department, Mercado said.

"I'm hoping for the best," Mercado said. "If the worst happens, then I'll go to the next step and meet with (the church's finance) committee.

"But I'm sure they're also going to give us a break and do monthly (payments), like when you deal with the gas company and you get a big bill."

Mercado said in the future, organizers may consider paying for fewer Des Plaines officers and looking for more volunteers to handle traffic control.

Bartholomew said he'd like to see any future arrangement between organizers and the city put into a formal written contract that would have stipulations for sharing event costs.

The city will be "reasonable" with organizers as to when the bill would have to be paid, he said.

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