SAN BENITO — For 25 years, the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center’s annual Conjunto Festival has drawn hundreds of fans to town, helping to put the city on the map as the birthplace of the music form born on the Texas-Mexico border.

Now, city fees might lead the arts center to cancel this year’s festival.

Rogelio Nuñez, the center’s founder, has told city commissioners he will cancel the three-day Conjunto Festival if the city does not reduce $17,365 in fees it now wants to charge.

For 20 years, the center

leased the city’s old library building for $1 a year. Two years ago, the center’s lease on the city-owned building that serves as its headquarters expired.

Yesterday, the city announced it is negotiating the use of public land.

Nuñez said an ordinance states the city charges $200 for use of San Benito Plaza, where the arts center has held its festival for years.

But this year, the city has increased the center’s fees to $17,365, Nuñez said.

“The city owns the building and grounds where the center is located,” city spokeswoman Martha McClain stated. “The center’s chief representative was informed last year that changes would be made.”

The city is interested in negotiating with the arts center to hold the festival, McClain said yesterday.

“We are open to considering the possibility of a collaboration or joint partnership between the NMCAC and the city of San Benito for the Conjunto Festival,” McClain stated.

As part of any agreement, she said, the arts center would present last year’s financial reports.

The city “is asking the center to provide a proposal of what the collaboration would entail,” she said. “The information will be helpful in determining the level of assistance the center may be provided by the city, should the city commission desire to enter into partnership or sponsorship.”

Earlier this week, Nuñez said he would cancel the festival, set for October, if the city did not reduce its fees.

“We want to have the fee taken off,” Nuñez told commissioners during the public comment period of a meeting Tuesday. “I don’t want to cancel the festival, but if I have to, I will.”

As he stood at the podium, Nuñez introduced commissioners to the arts center’s co-founders and board members including Cameron County Commissioner David Garza and Ramon DeLeon, a Harlingen dentist.

Nuñez told commissioners he is discussing the fees with Luis Contreras, coordinator of the city’s museums.

“I’ve had discussions about this whole process with Mr. Luis Contreras,” Nuñez said.

Yesterday, City Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez said Contreras and City Manager Manuel De La

Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center

★ Founded in 1991

★ Holds art exhibits and musical events

★ Hosts the annual Conjunto Festival in October

Rosa helped compile the fees charged to the arts center.

The city increased the fees to help cover costs associated with event, such as assigning police

officers to oversee security, Rodriguez said.

“We welcome (the festival). I think (Nuñez) has done a great job,” Rodriguez said. “The city has always been funding all this for many years. We have to watch where tax dollars are going. We’ve come to the point where you have to be self-sustainable. He needs to meet us halfway on some things. We all have to give and take.”

The arts center “promotes the community’s musical heritage and culture to all visitors,” McClain stated in a city press release.

The release also stated, “it is unlawful for any organization to utilize public funds or public assets that do not benefit the community.”

The arts center’s events, McClain said, “are proposed to be private events with no accountability to the city of San Benito. That in itself displays a lack of transparency with the utilization of public assets.”

The press release also stated the arts center has not spent money to maintain the building.

For 20 years, McClain wrote, “the center has not reinvested funds towards maintenance or upgrades that the facility needs.”

According to the arts center, the Rio Grande Valley’s only conjunto festival draws as many as 6,000 fans a year, making it one of San Benito’s biggest events.

The center has drawn international attention, Nuñez has said.

The Conjunto Festival features traditional music showcased by the Smithsonian Institution in its recording of a 1998 concert released in a CD titled Taquachito Nights.