Fewer Festivals?

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Fewer Festivals?
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City residents and passers through see and hear the sights and sounds emitting from Alexandrias special events each year, spanning from the famed George Washington Parade to lesser-known celebrations like the Cambodian Festival. 

But most residents are not privy to what goes into planning and paying for them. At last Saturdays City Council public hearing, elected officials approved new criteria for selecting which events are sponsored with the help of taxpayer dollars and which are not.

The move was indicative of a budget-saving mindset among city officials, but it also served to streamline the process of putting on a special event in the city.

I know that it is easier, currently, to close a street in the District of Columbia than it is to get an event approved in the City of Alexandria and that is not how it should be, said resident Julie Wadler, an event planner who said she embraced the guidelines.

But the new guidelines, which provoke non-city-spawned events to come up with more of their own funding, could decrease the size and scope of events. Applicants have to come up with a deposit worth half of the events total cost before moving ahead with the event, according to the new guidelines, which encourage organizers to find other sources like private sponsors. There is an appeal process in place if organizers cannot come up with funds, but organizers unable to come up with other funding sources could see their event cancelled.

From July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008, special events cost taxpayers about $421,000 including some cost recovery from event sponsors, according to a Council memo. They cost about $268,000 in the next year over the same period. With the new guidelines, special events are expected to cost the city about $175,000 this fiscal year (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010).

The guidelines layout four categories: City-funded events created and implemented by the government; co-funded events that are created, planned and implemented by the city, but may receive in-kind help from city staff, waived fees and money from pre-approved funds via an application process; non-city funded events; and parades (George Washington, Scottish Christmas Walk and St. Patricks Day) partially funded by sponsorships.

Lenny Harris, a chief organizer of the One Love festival, said he was concerned with the new guidelines, specifically the co-sponsorship and non-sponsorship aspects. The largest African American festival in the city, according to Harris, is in its ninth year of existence and had previously received financial support from the city, though it was decreased last year. It now falls under a non-city sponsored special event.

I hope we can work with the city and special events [committees] on continuing to have this festival, he said.

Mayor Bill Euille said that One Love and other non-city sponsored events could very well receive some funding, but how much will depend on the money available.

The new policy and procedures emphasize supporting festivals that provide cultural enrichment, promote economic vitality, enhance community identity and pride and provide opportunities for fundraising for the communitys nonprofit agencies.

Special events that have previously been in the city over these many years will continue for those that choose to do so. There is no suggestion or recommendation to opt any out or delete them, Euille said, adding that the goal is to find better ways to fund them through sponsorships and co-sponsorships so the cost burden is not so heavy on the city taxpayers.

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