By Judy Reed
The Red Flannel Festival offered an olive branch to the city of Cedar Springs Wednesday evening, June 8, when they arrived at a special meeting bearing a check to cover the estimated cost of city services for this year’s festival.
The city alerted the festival in mid-May that due to budget cuts they would no longer be able to provide services free of charge for community events. They had, however, offered to phase in the cuts to the festival.
“The Red Flannel Festival Board of Directors was thrilled to receive two calls from extremely generous donors this week, allowing the Festival to pay $5,224.65 to the City of Cedar Springs per Mayor Charlie Watson’s offer presented to the Festival board May 17,” said Festival president Michele Andres. “We are truly grateful for these phenomenal gifts, and although the donors wish to remain anonymous, we’re hopeful they will change their minds to receive the standing ovation from the community that they deserve.”
The festival also stepped up and offered to pay the city up to $8,000 each year for the next four years for the services the city provides. “We do not have any donors secured for the $8,000 per year payment to the City yet, but the board is anticipating being able to successfully manage those details beginning in January 2012,” said Andres. She noted that this proposed payment is almost one-third of all donations to the festival and they hope the city accepts their offer.
Mayor Pro-Tem Christine Fahl was emotional after seeing what the festival was offering to do. “I’d like to say thank you very much for what you did tonight,” she told the festival board. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I’ve learned that some friendships are stronger than anything.”
Trustee Pamela Conley echoed that sentiment. “I think this is amazing. I’m overwhelmed that you’ve made this huge offer. I’m exceedingly grateful,” she said.
Vice President Nick Andres said the intent is that after the four years of payments, the city would consider reinstating the funding.
Mayor Charlie Watson said he had been thinking a lot about what could be done. He said some have suggested cutting other areas to make the funding possible, but he didn’t feel it was fair to do that and then donate the money, after they had laid off four employees and raised water and sewer rates to help balance their budget.
Watson said he’d like the taxpayers to have a say in whether they want the city to use their taxes to fund the festival. “I feel it would be a good idea for sustainability to propose a millage and put it to the people,” he said. “I’m totally in support of trying to get something for the long term. This means as much to me as it does to you,” he told the festival board.
“We understand it does. That’s why we came to you with the $5,000 and $8,000 offer,” said Andres, “so you don’t have to do this. It just needs to be over.”
She said her first thought on the millage would be no. “I’d say give us a chance to see what we can do and then approach it again in five years.”
The City Council could not act on accepting either the check or the offer Wednesday, but did accept both at their regular monthly meeting, Thursday evening, June 9.
City Manager Christine Burns said that if the cost is less than the $5,200 check for this year’s expenses, the city will reimburse the difference.
Watson said their Red Flannel ad hoc committee will review a draft agreement submitted by the festival for the next four years. “I look forward to working with the Red Flannel Festival to work out an agreement,” he remarked, ”and I’d like to thank them for all their hard work–both on the festival and in helping bring a resolution to this issue.”