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City cuts funding to community events

Red Flannel Festival falls victim to budget shortfall

by Judy Reed

A $55,000 shortfall in the City of Cedar Springs’ budget has forced the city to make some painful cuts, including slashing funding of community events. “We had to cut so deep that no one was immune,” said City Manager Christine Burns.

Not only does that include the Halloween Spook~tacular and Christmas tree lighting, it also includes $6,466 worth of services to the Red Flannel Festival.

The Red Flannel Festival budget is approximately $90,000, and according to Festival president Michele Andres, the city is their second largest donor, providing police protection, DPW services and equipment rental. The festival gave the CSPD a donation of $1,000 last year to help offset costs, and Burns said that the $6,466 figure took that into account. She also noted that they would phase in the cuts to the RFF, by not charging for equipment rental this year, and continuing to waive parade fees.

“For the sustainability of the festival, it’s a devastating blow,” said Andres, who noted that they are already four months into their budget year. “We’ve made commitments to our vendors that we don’t yet have money for.” They are currently in the midst of their patron sponsorship drive, which brings in money for many of the events. She said that $6,000 is about the cost of the Lumberjack show, or new this year, the US Army Screaming Eagles Parachute team, which costs between $6000-8000. Andres said that they spend over $14,000 on advertising alone, through radio and TV spots, and the Red Flannel 36-page color brochure.

The city has seen a drop in revenue sharing of $144,502 since 2001, and a drop in interest revenue of $46,722 in the same time period. Burns explained that the city staff has been living with the reductions and making sacrifices the last few years, including reducing staff by four people. (For a complete list of cuts, visit the city’s website at www.cityofcedarsprings.org.)

Burns said that when they are cutting staff and services, they shouldn’t be doing things for free. “Those events will need to be sponsored by businesses,” she explained. As far as the festival, she said they could either choose to contract out the services they need, or hire the local police department.

Mayor Charlie Watson wasn’t happy about the cuts, but thinks they were needed. “I’ve lived in this community all my life. My father chaired the parade for three years. I love this community and the Festival. This decision is painful for all of us,” he said.

City Councilor and former festival organizer Pat Capek said she didn’t immediately understand the ramifications when they adopted the budget earlier this month. “I think it’s very important to play an active role in the festival. We are the Red Flannel Town,” she said.

Capek said she was recently at a Michigan Municipal League convention, where the speaker told them to think about what makes their community unique. “He said, ‘Don’t be cutting those things that make your community special or unique.’ And here we are doing it,” she remarked. “I know that money is tight, but it’s not a huge amount, it seems like there would be other ways to find the money.”

The Post contacted several West Michigan communities to see how they operate with the festivals in their towns. George Bosanic, City Manager in Greenville, said that they provide labor and service in terms of police protection for the Danish Festival, but that the festival also purchases security from the outside. “Their requirement for public safety is above and beyond what we can provide,” he explained. He also noted that they enhance transit operations, and the DPW does some work, too. “With budgets the way they are, we’ve been fortunate not to cut support. Some of those items can be looked at as low hanging fruit,” he said.

Martin Super, Sparta Village Manager, said that they provide police patrol for increased traffic for Sparta Town and Country Days, but they don’t provide security for the beer tent. “They get volunteers for that,” he said. Super said that they try to use part-time officers to avoid overtime pay, and that the DPW has some added workload but it’s not really a hardship. “If you plan things right, you can get it to fall into two pay periods to avoid overtime,” he explained. “When we clean up after events, we try not to pay OT. We might wait until the next morning to clean up.” He also noted that they have a very organized festival committee who is very proactive about getting things done on their own. On a side note, he mentioned that when he was a part-time sheriff for VanBuren County, he used to work for the county fair for a week during regular working hours, and that his wages were paid for by the fair, and not the Sheriff’s Department.

According to Kirk Thielke, Village President of Sand Lake, they don’t give any financial aid to the Sand Lake Fourth of July celebration, although the DPW does some extra work to get things ready, such as setting up barrels, brush hogging,  mowing, porta potty placement and  preparing the area for fireworks. The Chamber pays the police department $2,500 for additional police protection, and pays the Fire Department $2,500 for opening and closing streets, picking up garbage, etc. “What’s good for the village is good for the chamber, and what’s good for the chamber is good for the village,” said Thielke. The chamber also puts on the Easter egg hunt, Santa parade, and Winter fest, and uses village property for some of those events at no charge.

Rockford City Manager Michael Young said that they have 24 events throughout the year, and that they support them all—they don’t charge any of the organizations. “We try to look at it as bringing economic stimulus into the community, and providing people here with quality of life events,” he said. “I don’t see us cutting support for community events.”

Kate Klemp, in charge of sponsorship and development of Holland’s Tulip Festival, said that they work closely with the city. “The city plants millions of tulips, and we do pay for some of them. We are expected to pay for police services outside of their realm of duty, but we get back so much from them as they work the events,” she explained. “Some events we do pay for officers to be at their posts.” She said that they also get a grant from the city’s culture and leisure services to fund cultural experiences for the 82-year-old festival. “If you work with public safety and the culture committee, you’ll accomplish a lot more than as a lone wolf,” she remarked.

The Red Flannel Festival does not employ any paid staff, and all the work is done soley by volunteers. The organization gives money back to non-profits through its community share program, where organizations share volunteers and the festival shares profits. Andres said the festival has donated over $20,000 to area non-profits the last few years. She said they also try to buy from local businesses if available.

The city and the festival are scheduled to have a meeting Thursday to sit down and discuss what this means to the future of the Red Flannel Festival. “It’s kind of hard to get our arms around. We just don’t know yet the scope of what’s not going to be covered,” said Andres.

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8 Responses to “City cuts funding to community events”

  1. william wheeler says:

    I recall our City Manager getting a pay increase this year….funny how that worked out for her. I guess times aren’t that tough. Not to mention she still has a city vehicle when most governments stopped giving those perks years ago. Time for her to go.

  2. concerned citizen says:

    I have to agree. What does she do anyways with her time? I hear she likes to be on facebook all day! She thinks our fire department is not needed in this town. Those guys give their all to the city and get treated like crap. It is about time people stand up to the bully that she has become!

  3. Charlie Towns says:

    I own residential property in the City of Cedar Springs, and Nelson township. I see a number of houses in the City sit vacant and foreclosed. I think that a part of the revenue decline is people living in the city. I know that alot of people will not buy up these houses in the city and live in them because taxes are SO high! My payment in tax escrow almost doubles my payment. I know you are doing your best. But have you (The City) looked into perhaps lowering taxes and seeing if more people will move into the City? I do not know how the numbers would play out but perhaps you may end up increasing your tax base and bring in more money. Just a though.

  4. Charlie Towns says:

    I posted the above on the city website. I think another problem is that hardly anyone shows up any of the city meetings on how this problem will be handled. There is no new ideas being presented to the counsel, so of course they continue down the same path. Are you really surprised??

  5. Charlie,

    First of all, thank you for your suggestions. Council and staff are continuously looking for ways to do things better and more efficiently. I appreciate the fact that you always sign your name and that you participate in the process, even though you are not currently living in Cedar Springs. On this day following Memorial Day, I would like to thank you for your service to our country and hope you make it back to Cedar Springs safe and sound. As always, my door is open and I am more than willing to discuss this (or any other City issue) with residents and taxpayers. For you, the easiest format is probably via internet and I will be happy to respond to your post on the City website accordingly. Information, such as a complete copy of our budget, are available on our website at http://www.cityofcedarsprings.org. If there is something you would like to see posted on the website that is not currently there, please let me know and we will do our best to publish it in a timely manner.

  6. William Wheeler says:

    From my understanding Mrs Burns Doesn’t live in the city either!! Funny how that works as well.

  7. Charlie Towns says:

    @Ms. Burns, Thank you for your response. I did briefly look at the post on the cities website. I will look at it more in depth this weekend and I probably have some questions I will ask via e-mail. @ all of you who find fault with her. It is a sad fact that almost no one in Cedar has anything to do with City hall until it comes time to slam them. Hardly anyone votes in the city, no one attends the council meetings; no one voices anything until it comes time to tell them how awful they are. I do not agree with most things they do, but….. I want to be involved in the process. and I plan to tell them what I do not like and try to give them viable alternatives. Don’t complain if you do not participate, and if you have a problem with them go to the meetings and tell them. They may not even know it is a problem, because no one ever shows up to tell them about it. Everyone just complains after the fact.

  8. William Wheeler says:

    Mr Towns

    Maybe I have my information from inside sources. You are not here to see!! What she is doing is hurting those that dedicate their lives and time to this city, I will stop at that for now but i am sure you will read and or hear more when that time comes.

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