By Alison O'Leary Murray, Globe Correspondent, 3/21/2004
Imagine that every registered Boston Marathon runner dropped $1 into a hat on the way through Natick. The contribution would come to $20,000, the amount the race sponsor gives to the town each year to help host the event.
The $20,000 is more than enough, race officials say, to cover the costs the town incurs for the annual Patriots Day ritual.
But this year, some Natick officials are saying it's not enough. They want $25,000.
Most communities on the Hopkinton-to-Boston course, including Ashland, Framingham, Natick, and Wellesley, get the same $20,000 a year from the Boston Athletic Association, which puts on the Marathon, because of similar crowd sizes and needs for municipal services during the race, said Guy Morse, the association's executive director for 20 years.
But this year, Natick is asking the organization for an additional $5,000, and selectmen are holding out on awarding a race permit unless the association gives serious consideration to its financial contribution.
Morse said it was the first time a community had asked for more money.
"Based on feedback we have received, the donations we make more than cover the actual costs incurred by each town," Morse said.
Still, he has promised Natick officials to let his board of directors decide. It will consider Natick's request by the end of the month.
While Natick officials concede that they are unlikely to deny access to the wave of 20,000 runners, wheelchair athletes, and thousands of spectators who crowd the area around the 10-mile mark in the center of town, they insist the request is only fair.
Some Natick officials contend that the cost of providing police details and cleaning up afterward increases every year, while the payments to the town have stayed fixed.
Town Administrator Philip E. Lemnios said he is certain the BAA is getting more from the race's sponsors, and that towns should share in that.
But it is unclear exactly how much the race costs to host.
In Natick, as in Framingham, the quantifiable costs of helping host the race generally are not nearly as high as the BAA contribution. The rest of the money in Natick's case is given to the town's Recreation and Parks Department for equipment that is not marathon-related.
Richard Cugini, director of recreation and parks, said the race expenses were about $7,000 last year for all town departments. The remaining funds have helped complete a number of recreation-related projects in recent years, he said, including equipment for the now-closed skate park, expenses for Camp Arrowhead, costs of the Johnson School outdoor hockey rink, repairing tennis and basketball courts, and new lacrosse nets last year.
This year, Cugini is eyeing picnic tables for the town's municipal golf course, along with a portable awning that could be used alongside its pro shop.
The marathon funds have "been a great thing for the department and recreation and park facility users," Cugini said. "But we could always use more money, don't get me wrong."
If the BAA board agrees to make a change, it could prompt larger payouts to other communities. Some officials from other towns say they track race-day expenses in terms of overtime and clean-up costs, but that does not reflect actual costs.
Framingham Town Manager George P. King Jr. said he applauds Natick's stance. Framingham generally spends roughly $12,000 on overtime, he said, but that does not capture all of the costs involved.
"It doesn't account for the wear and tear [on town vehicles], the vehicle costs, the planning ahead of time, the inconvenience to the whole town," King said. "But we're kind of at their mercy. We're not going to stop allowing the marathon to go through."
Ashland Selectman John Ellsworth agrees with Natick's request in principle. "I don't think we've ever considered asking for more, but in reality it doesn't cover all of our costs and it would be nice to get more," he said.
Hopkinton, Newton, and Boston receive more money based on the number of miles of the course in each community, the size of the crowd along the route, and other factors, Morse said. Hopkinton's share, which was $60,000 last year, has grown as the number of runners the BAA allows in the race has almost doubled in the past 10 years.
Hopkinton's executive secretary, Theodore D. Kozak, said the town's costs were $45,000 last year, leaving about $15,000 to be distributed through the Marathon Fund Committee, which funds things such as Little League and scholarships.
When Hopkinton selectmen approved the marathon permit last week, Kozak said, they "indicated that they're thankful for whatever the BAA gives."
Wellesley, too, is satisfied with what it gets, said Christopher Clark, the assistant director of general government services.