AUBURN — Councilors on Tuesday said they liked the Dempsey Challenge bicycle event but not the costs it adds to their bottom line or the effect it has on downtown traffic.

“What exactly does this event bring to the taxpayers?” Councilor Dan Herrick said. “I don’t have a problem with them coming here, but what does this do to help our taxpayers or improve our tax base? I think it’s fine, but I’m beginning to see it as a burden on citizens.”

Organizers are planning the second annual challenge for Oct. 2 and 3. The inaugural event brought 3,500 participants to the Twin Cities for bicycle rides and a series of runs in October 2009. Thousands more came to cheer on participants, watch the races and catch a glimpse of TV star Patrick Dempsey.

The event was a fundraiser for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing at Central Maine Medical Center. The Dempsey Center helps cancer patients and their families by offering education, massage, yoga and counseling — at no cost. Last year’s event raised more than $1 million. At least half went to benefit the Dempsey Center.

Councilors and City Manager Glenn Aho set aside $2,800 to deal with challenge-related costs in the current budget. Most of the money would pay for police officer overtime, closing roads and monitoring traffic during the foot races and the bike ride.

Councilors on Tuesday voted 5-2 to accept a letter from challenge organizers detailing those costs, with Councilors Mike Farrell and Dan Herrick voting against accepting the letter. Both objected to having the city pay those costs.

“Why can’t we be reimbursed for those costs?” Councilor Mike Farrell asked. “It makes no sense to say that this event is going to generate $2 million this year, but we can’t be paid back $2,800.”

Councilor Herrick suggested finding a less expensive way to handle the police costs. According to a Police Department memo, that money will pay for six officers for the first day and four for the second day. Overtime salary and benefits would cost the city about $40 per hour.

“There has got to be a cheaper way to go than paying $40 an hour for this,” Herrick said. “We can hire a rent-a-cop or something. There has to be a better way.”

Councilor Belinda Gerry wondered about other costs associated with the event; use of city parking lots and food vendor inspections were not included in the city’s budget.

“Nobody here is against this event,” Herrick said. “We just think, maybe, they ought to do a little cost-sharing with some of this.”

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