City hopes ATV festival will become 'signature event'

BERLIN – With an expanded itinerary and the recent publicity about ATV riding in northern New Hampshire, organizers are anticipating the Jericho ATV Festival will attract its largest crowd ever.
Now in its fourth year, the festival is scheduled for July 26-27. In addition to the events at Jericho State Park, this year there will be a block party in downtown Berlin on Friday night to attract riders to local businesses and restaurants.
Organizers met with the city council Monday night to provide an update on the festival.
Sylvia Poulin, representing both the Androscoggin Valley Chamber and the Berlin Main Street Program, said they are marketing the festival in southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The Main Street Program received a $15,000 grant from Citizens Bank to promote the festival and Riverfire working through N.H. Grand. She said the publicity is generating a lot of calls to the chamber office. Poulin said the city's help is needed to coordinate the event and they are working with police on planning.
"We really have to put our best foot forward to market this event," she said.
Poulin said there will be a ride-in on Friday, July 26, to the downtown block party. The local merchants will set up tables outside their businesses and there will be live music and a beer tent.
Representing the Androscoggin Valley ATV Club, Dick Huot said the event was more than the club could do on its own and last year the chamber stepped in to share the workload. He said the festival attracted 2,200 people last year and he expects it will draw 3,000 ATVers this year. He said the mud pit and obstacle course are all set to go. He said the festival has attracted some sponsors including the city. Berlin will provide $3,000. Huot estimated the cost to put on the festival at $10,000 to $12,000.
Police Chief Peter Morency said parking and signage issues are being addressed.
"I think it's going to be a great event for the area," said Morency.
The ATV committee, chaired by Councilor Roland Theberge, met last week to discuss safety issues. After last year's festival, the committee identified three main areas for improvement.
One was confusion on Route 110 over where ATV enthusiasts can ride their ATVs on the road. The city allows ATVs on city streets for the festival but the urban compact ends at White Mountain Distributors. West of the compact line is under state jurisdiction and ATVs are not allowed on state highways. Last year, many ATV enthusiasts thought they could ride on Route 110 all the way to the park.
The committee agreed to put signage at the compact line, indicating ATVs are not allowed on the road beyond that point. A sign will also point ATVers to the connector trail.
Berlin police last year reported a problem with juveniles traveling on city streets with disregard for the rules and regulations. Theberge noted the governor has signed legislation requiring anyone driving an ATV on the road to have a driver's license or be accompanied by an adult. That is expected to eliminate most of the juvenile issues.
The committee also identified priority parking areas and the need for parking attendants.
As part of the safety effort, Theberge said a public informational meeting on the festival will be held on July 11 and the rules and regulations will be detailed then.
Morency asked the council how his department should handle the extra costs associated with policing for the festival. He said the department splits the cost of added police officers with the sponsors and tries to take advantage of special enforcement funding. Still, he said the department could be looking at as much as $7,000 in additional costs.
City Manager James Wheeler noted there are two components to the festival that require law enforcement — the downtown block party and the Route 110 traffic.
Mayor Paul Grenier said he thinks the festival is important for the city as a way to take advantage of the new motorized economy. He said no other community in the state has such a festival and it can become a signature event for Berlin.
He suggested providing up to $4,000 from the council's contingency account to cover additional police costs. The council approved his recommendation. Grenier asked Morency to come back to the council after the event with a breakdown of costs.
In other business:
* The council agreed with Housing Coordinator Linda White's request to award the paving contract for 3 Glen Avenue to Central Asphalt Paving for $18,330. City Manager James Wheeler reported that White got quotes from four companies and Central was the lowest.
* The council gave final approval to a $610,000 application to the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Program (SAFER) grant to fund four fire fighter positions.
* The council approved a new three-year contract with Berlin Emergency Medical Service for ambulance service. The city subsidy will increase from $20,000 a month to $25,916 or just over $310,000 annually. The contract contains a clause allowing for an adjustment in the subsidy if there is an increase or decrease in Medicare or Medicaid rates of more than five percent. Grenier said he reviewed the contract and said he believes the city could not provide the same service at that price.