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.