LETTER: Taxpayer money for Roots 'N' Blues, not for Thumper

Friday, July 10, 2009 | 4:45 p.m. CDT

In 2007, Boone County National Bank celebrated its 150 years in Columbia by bearing the cost and hosting a Roots 'N’ Blues 'N' BBQ Festival that did not charge admission fees. Our people and guests loved it.

In 2008, the city helped sponsor and promote the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival, and again its free admission allowed all to enjoy the popular blues music. The City Council voted unanimously to contribute $100,000 from the Tourism and Development Fund and $10,000 in seed money from 2007. Considerable city staff time and labor was needed, including police and fire personnel, Joint Communication Information Center service, street barriers, trash removal, street cleaning, parking and two hand-washing stations. The city estimated taxpayers' costs for these services was $62,630. For all these city services, the council voted to give Thumper Productions a “discounted rate” so Thumper was only obligated to pay $38,000 “on or before October 31, 2008." So, when did Thumper repay the $38,000? On July 6, 2009 — in effect, it was given a more than 8-month interest-free loan.

In 2009, even though much city staff time and labor is again being devoted to the Roots 'N’ Blues event, council members claim that, since they are considering allowing admission fees, city subsidies will not be granted to the event this year. The current plan is to be a sponsor and charge Thumper Productions $41,000 for those public safety, health, barriers, set-up and clean-up services. One can’t help but wonder when Thumper will pay this bill. But, more importantly, since the city in 2008 estimated these many city government services to cost $62,630, then this year, in light of rising costs, the true cost to city taxpayers for these extensive services could be estimated to be at least $65,000. Therefore, the city's "discounted charge" of $41,000 to Thumper IS nothing more than a taxpayer subsidy.

Even though the final resolution and agreement is yet to be presented, the City Council plans to vote on this July 20. The city and Thumper have been slow in revealing specifics of the arrangement, causing some to wonder just when the public will learn the final details – I hope not July 20, the night of the vote.

Bottom line: The city should not be handing out subsidies to what is essentially a for-profit gig. I and many others strongly believe that the admission ticket format, in any form, will discourage or, due to financial issues, prevent many townspeople and visitors from attending Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ, and destroy what was, for two years, admission-free and for that key reason a fun and successful festival.


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