The Town Council took no action at its Tuesday, June 16 meeting on the prospects for Derryfest, the annual fall celebration of all things Derry, but is urging the Derryfest Committee and town to work together.
Residents expressed concern after the committee announced recently that the event was cancelled for 2015. Derryfest Chair Michael Gendron said at the time that the six-member committee made the decision after Parks and Recreation Director Eric Bodenrader informed them that he could no longer provide help for the festival due to cuts to his overtime budget.
Town Administrator Galen Stearns said he had been asked by the Council to look into the cost of the festival to the town. Stearns said Parks and Recreation spends approximately $2,500 on the event, including chemical toilets, supplies and staff overtime for the weekend.
“Part of our issue,” Stearns said, “is that the overtime is required for other projects. With the reduction, we need to choose what we can cover.”
Council Chairman Tom Cardon observed that Derryfest has stated that it is privately funded. A look into the books showed approximately $3,000 to $4,000 “left over” every year, and Cardon wondered if that money could be transferred from Derryfest to Parks and Recreation to pay for the tasks traditionally done by the town.
“From where I can see, money is not a problem,” Cardon said. “The problem is getting the money from Derryfest to Parks and Rec.”
Councilor David Fischer said, “I believe Derryfest is a positive event for Derry. But we were deceived to think it was completely self-funded.”
He added that Derryfest “needs to figure out how to go forward without the assistance of the town.”
“Christmas comes once a year, and so does Derryfest,” Councilor Mark Osborne said. “They have three months to plan this – as a private organization.”
The exposure is good for the town’s businesses, Osborne observed. “I’m not convinced that we can’t find the funds to privately operate Derryfest,” he said. “Has someone stolen the blueprints? I’m optimistic that Derryfest can happen.”
Osborne pointed to the Derry Farmers Market, from which the town withdrew support two years ago, and which is still thriving.
“Local government needs to get out of the business of picking and choosing what it subsidizes,” Osborne said.
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores characterized the festival as “the biggest thing that happens all year. It brings everyone together.”
She said she was happy to volunteer, as did Osborne and Councilor Joshua Bourdon.
Councilor Al Dimmock said that for years, “We’ve been told Derryfest has nothing to do with the town. Now we find out that’s not the truth.” Dimmock added that he never saw Derryfest in the budget, and urged that “it needs to be taken under advisement with other people.”
“Derryfest has been extremely positive for the town, and I’m disappointed this has gone so far,” Bourdon said. “They’ve lost members, they need help.” Bourdon said he thought the event could be revived, but only with a strong community effort.
“I wish we could have communicated and found a way for this to happen,” Bourdon said.
Bourdon asked if town employees could be used if the lost overtime were replaced, and Stearns said, “No. We’ve got a budget. That would count as revenue.”
But it could be done through a supplemental appropriation, Stearns added.
Chief Financial Officer Susan Hickey said the money could be allotted to Parks and Recreation through a supplemental appropriation and a public hearing to accept unanticipated revenue.
Cardon directed Stearns to work as a liaison between Derryfest and Parks and Recreation to see if he could make it happen.
Gendron spoke briefly in the public forum portion of the meeting, characterizing Derryfest as a public/private partnership. “It’s 90 percent private, 10 percent public and a good deal for Derry,” he said. “It’s a topnotch, well-planned town fair. It does require a couple of grand of overtime from Parks.” But that 10 percent is “critical,” Gendron added, with the manpower, equipment and experience provided by Parks and Recreation.
Osborne said earlier this year that he hadn’t realized the town was “subsidizing” the festival. In the public forum part of the meeting, Gendron said the Councilors had to have been “sightless” not to notice the town trucks and the uniformed town employees on the grounds at the festival.
Gendron also said that nothing in his press release indicated that they were cancelling the festival for political reasons, as had been alleged.
Meanwhile, resident Mike Gill is circulating a petition to keep Parks and Recreation involved with the festival, but to pay for the overtime through the MacGregor Fund (see related story page 1).