Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
At its August 12, 2013 Budget Workshop, the full Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) once again turned its attention to the question of funding Shrimp Fest cleanup next year. At its previous budget workshop, for which Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett was absent, commissioners appeared to be split on the issue, with Commissioners Ed Boner and Arlene Filkoff supporting the requested $33,000 for this activity, while Mayor Sarah Pelican and Commissioner Pat Gass seemed to be opposed. Mayor Pelican ascertained that it was the will of the commission to take public comment at this meeting.
Commissioner Arlene Filkoff, the first to speak to this issue, cited a 2011 report from the Tourism Development Council (TDC) that attributed an $8.5M economic impact to the city from Shrimp Fest. Filkoff said, “I find it difficult to understand how the city would not support their request for $33K for trash pick up for an event that brings that kind of economic impact to the community.” She indicated that she would be willing to have a future conversation with the Shrimp Fest Committee, if the commission has other issues, but in her mind the concerns expressed at the previous meeting were outside the scope of the current request for funding.
Commissioner Ed Boner agreed with Filkoff and said he would go further. He said that he would support the funding of trash pick up but also would like to have better communication with the festival committee for future budgets to understand items like marketing better. “Is our view of the Shrimp Fest’s promotional activity in line with theirs?” he asked. Filkoff replied that she had no problem with having that conversation, but that the commission does not engage in conversations over how many people in a non-profit get paid and what they get paid.
Commissioner Pat Gass pointed out that her opposition did not reference salaries, and that was not the issue. The issue was spending city money on trash pick up for the event. She said she learned about this in early spring and informed City Manager Joe Gerrity that she didn’t want to pay this any more. He told her it was already budgeted, she claimed, so she let it go for 2013. She reiterated her earlier statement that it is time to cut off spending on this activity after years of city subsidies. “If the taxpayers of this city put the same amount into the Blues Festival and the Jazz Festival and the Book Festival … we might be having something like the Shrimp Festival 3, 4 or 5 times a year. It’s time to move on,” she said.
Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett said he realized that Shrimp Festival brings a lot of money into town, but that he wanted the Shrimp Fest Committee to furnish a profit and loss statement to show why they needed the contribution from the city. “If they had $50,000 to pay their leader, they can do that if they want, but they need to show us why they need $32,000 from us. If they can show that, we’d be more than happy to reconsider and give it to them. … They’ve got plenty of money, in my opinion, if they can do that [pay their director $50,000], ” he said. “ We don’t need to give them money just because they are asking for it.
Filkoff asked if the city requires Shrimp Fest to use Advanced Disposal, the city’s contract trash hauler. Gerrity replied that it is required in the city’s franchise agreement with Shrimp Fest. Mayor Sarah Pelican asked if Advanced Disposal had been approached about sponsorship for the festival. Gerrity said that he was not aware of that.
Boner said, “I don’t think Shrimp Festival is like all the other festivals. It is appropriate to have a workshop. … Fernandina was where modern shrimping was born. That’s our identity. We’re not about jazz; we’re not about blues. We’re all about shrimp.”
Mayor Pelican invited Shrimp Fest Committee (SFC) members to address the commission. Mark Deaton, festival chair and director of festival entertainment said that he wanted to address some of the inaccurate statements about Shrimp Fest. He said, “Just a couple of things. First of all I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing today. A lot of this [opposition to funding trash fees] seems to stem from miscommunication and inaccurate information. The $50,000 figure seems to have come from Beano Roberts, who has some issues with the current committee. Beano [a long-serving Shrimp Fest committee member] is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” He said that in 2000 the Shrimp Festival Committee (SFC) had created a paid position for festival director, but not filled it. Sandy Price had elected not to take any salary for the period she has been serving as director. She is now at a point where she either needs to take a salary or move on. “ The claim that Sandy Price, the current director, was being paid $50,000 was just not true, he said. Rather, the SFC had authorized 3 months of salary at $2,250 per month while a subcommittee evaluated whether the SFC can afford to pay that. “The $50,000 figure – God knows where Beano came up with that,” he said. “That needs to be taken out of the equation.”
Vice Mayor Corbett asked Deaton about charging non-profits a cleanup fee. Deaton, backed up by SFC Treasurer Dawn Lunt, said that while all participating organizations are charged a general fee to participate, there is no fee earmarked for clean up.
In further remarks, Dawn Lunt informed commissioners that this year the 50 participating non-profits made $270K at Shrimp Fest. She said that food booths are charged a $300 fee and agree to give back to the SFC 15% (if they sell shrimp in any form) or 20% (if they do not sell shrimp) of their gross sales. “We do not audit their books,” she said. “We do it on the honor system.” Entertainment is one of the largest expenses, along with fireworks. She went on to say that the SFC reimburses the city for fire, police and maintenance services associated with Shrimp Fest, asking if the FBCC had weighed that against the request for assistance in cleanup fees. She said that this year the SFC was presented a bill for $25,000 for these services, which they paid. When weighed against their request for the city to pay $33,000 for trash removal, the net cost to the city is only $8,000. She reminded commissioners that the city is the festival’s co-host, not just a sponsor. In response to a question from Corbett, she said that as a major sponsor, Publix provides $20,000 to the Shrimp Fest Committee.
Mayor Pelican suggested that a workshop might be in order. Corbett asked if it were true that without city financial support for clean up, Shrimp Fest would go away.
Deaton responded that festival director Sandy Price did not recall having made this statement. He said that the SFC would do its best to keep the festival going. It would be very difficult because the SFC does not bank a lot of money each year.
Boner reminded commissioners that Shrimp Fest is the city’s public relations for the entire year. Filkoff said that she wanted to make sure that commissioners knew the full costs billed to Shrimp Fest by the city and the amount paid. Gass said that she wanted to go over the math. She added, “Nobody wants to do away with Shrimp Fest.” Filkoff asked rhetorically, “With our desire to lessen the burden on taxpayers and the economic impact of Shrimp Fest, why do we [the FBCC] not want to do things that increase our tax base?” Gass said, “That just means they’ve [the SFC] got to go out and look a little harder for sponsors.”
Mayor Pelican tried to end the discussion by polling commissioners for consensus on the need for a special workshop. City Manager Joe Gerrity has scheduled a workshop devoted to Shrimp Fest for Monday, August 19, 2013 at 4:00 p.m.
In conclusion, Mark Deaton referred back to Filkoff’s earlier statement on Shrimp Fest’s economic impact. He said that the study she quoted only included impact from tourists. The true figure, which includes local impact as well, is $17M, he said.
August 14, 2013 10:00 a.m.