IN A CITY that loves parades, how do you decide which one is worth keeping? The Mummers? The Phillies' World Series parade? Or the parade of police on their way to the bank to deposit their overtime checks?

The tussle over who pays for the city's parades and events - and the accountability for those costs - began in earnest last year when those who run the Dad Vail Regatta announced they were moving it because of high costs, including police costs. The regatta ultimately worked out a deal to stay in the city, but the dustup did nothing to resolve the larger issue of how or whether the city should pick up the costs for events and parades at a time when the basics are being cut.

City Council approved a bill by Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez that would have the city pick up the costs of police; the mayor vetoed it, but the veto was overridden yesterday. She says she's been trying to work with the city on a compromise. One option, for example, would be to cap the amount that organizers pay, and have the costs be split among the city, the organizers and a $500,000 fund created by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady from a contribution from Gerry Lenfest.

That makes some sense, although the Lenfest money, administered by a new group called Greater Philadelphia Traditions Inc., is designed to underwrite costs of specific parades and doesn't address the larger questions about what events and parades are worthy of public support, or what the criteria for such support should be. That's the city's job, although perhaps some of that money could be used to create a transition period to figure out a more sustainable and uniform method of ensuring the long-term health of all events. The city needs to figure out criteria for events that deserve some public support. Should tourist-heavy events get preference over smaller community-based events for those who live here? (That would seem to be the thinking in the city's decision to pick up the $300,000 costs of Welcome America!) Should economic benefits be a factor in the level of public support that events get? Are the city's costs appropriate, fair and consistent across the board?

None of these are simple questions, but they are critical to answer: A city without parades and events is hardly a city at all, but hard times demand wise spending. We don't need to underwrite any group that decides it wants a parade or event, but we should be fair and open about how we decide which ones do get our support.