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Salemfest organizers say sign ban will hurt local nonprofits

SALEM — Salemfest organizers are increasingly frustrated with the Board of Selectmen's policy banning signs on public property and rights-of-way.

Event officials had planned on posting about 50 signs around Salem, with 15 or so along Route 28. This year's fair is Sept. 21, with all proceeds going to area charities.

Betty Gay, volunteer coordinator of Salemfest, said the signs remain the best way to keep people informed of the coming festivities, particularly the signs posted along heavily traveled main roads.

The temporary Salemfest signs have been posted in that manner for the past nine years, according to Gay.

"We may have been the only charity that followed the rules, but we have consistently made a formal request (to selectmen) every year and that request was granted," Gay said on Tuesday.

Not so this year.

At the Aug. 12 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, when Gay and fellow Salemfest organizers approached the board to make their annual sign request, they were informed they could no longer place signs in the town's right of way.

Selectmen agreed that the signs have become a nuisance around town, particularly when the sign-posters fail to remove them in a timely manner.

In addition, several of the local organizations serving as event venues will now have to shell out $10 for a permit allowing them to post a sign on their property.

Gay said Salemfest consists entirely of nonprofit charity organizations, with the Salem Animal Rescue League, the Salem Caregivers, A Family Promise and various churches and scouting groups among the 25 organizations participating this year.

For most of those groups, the day serves as a major fundraiser through concession sales and other such efforts.

"We're not a business making millions of dollars, we're just a bunch of nonprofit groups that will be happy if we make a couple thousand dollars that day," Gay said, noting that the event's only participant that would quality as a "business" is the Greystone senior citizen community, which will be raising funds for the Alzheimer's Association during Salemfest.

Gay plans on attending this Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting to further address the topic.

In early April, controversy over the signs arose when Jane Lang, organizer of the Salem Farmers Market, appeared before the board seeking permission to post temporary signs advertising the Sunday markets around town.

Selectman James Keller said the signs for the farmers market were considered commercial because although the market itself is a nonprofit, the participating farmers and vendors are businesses.

However, as of this past spring the board didn't have a written ordinance specifying its policies on such signs.

Since then, the board instituted a policy denying all organizations permission to post signs in the town's right-of-way, including temporary signs.

The Salem Board of Selectmen will meet again Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.

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