Mayor David Stubbs said the council earlier this month exercised its option to terminate the contract before it expired in 2019 to leave enough time for negotiations for a new deal before planning begins for the 48th annual event.
Dawn Schroeder, director of the Waynesville Area Chamber of Commerce, the organization that puts on the festival through a local volunteer committee, likewise said the festival would go on in 2017.
“We’re just re-negotiating,” she said. “The festival’s not in danger of being canceled.”
The Ohio Sauerkraut Festival is the signature event for Waynesville. In addition to a broad spectrum of dishes made with sauerkraut, it features arts, crafts and entertainment.
It draws about 350,000 people to the area and raises funds for a wide range of local nonprofits.
The lawyer for the chamber said the termination was triggered by a dispute over compensation and liability for local police hired to provide security.
“Their stance on this is putting this entire event in jeopardy,” said Martin Hubbell, a Waynesville native and the chamber’s lawyer. “We want to go forward with the agreement as is through the term.”
Stubbs said the contract was outdated and needed to be rewritten to take into account issues including how much insurance the festival needed to carry to protect the village from liability and the boundaries of the event.
“We did this early so we can get everything together even before the festival committee starts to meet next March,” said Stubbs, adding he also has been part of the festival committee for close to 50 years.
Stubbs said the village was simply following the example of other communities that have re-examined their relationships with festival operators related to safety and security insurance.
“We’re doing this for the benefit of us all,” he said.
Schroeder dismissed as a “false rumor” suggestions that the village council’s action could result in cancellation of the festival.
“They just kind of wanted to wrap their head around the lease,” she said. “We feel like we can work through any issues.”
However, Shroeder said the festival is already adequately insured and disagreed on the need to redraw the boundaries of the festival grounds.
She estimated 345,000 people visited the 2016 Ohio Sauerkraut Festival, replenishing the bank accounts of youth organizations, churches, the American Legion and other nonprofits in the local 45068 zip code.
“It trickles down to the hotels and all the other businesses leading into Waynesville,” she added, estimated the total economic impact at $500,000 “or more.”
Hubbell said the termination followed a dispute over payment of local police for security services sparked when the village asked the chamber to to accept new terms, holding it responsible for misdeeds by the security force.
The agreement is virtually identical to one used by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for security services.
“The problem and why people are signing it is there is no alternative,” Hubbell said.
Hubbell said such agreements created unreasonable risks, particularly for volunteer organizations that put on a single festival every year. He said the village could be left to stage the 2017 event itself.
Like Schroeder, Hubbell said the festival had enough insurance to handle claims, except those involving misconduct by the security force.
“There’s no insurance policy you can buy that covers an officer tasing someone,” he said.
Negotiations are expected to begin after the holidays.
“There are two things Waynesville is known for: antiques and the sauerkraut festival, and not in that order. Everybody’s got to pitch in,” Hubbell said.