Muskegon Heights Festival in the Park Will Go On, Gets Partial Funding From County

Andrew Trzaska | May 24, 2011

The City of Muskegon Heights’ Festival in the Park will go on as planned but will receive $1,000 less from Muskegon County to put on the event.

The difference of $1,000 came from a long discussion over how the county gives money to events that are proposed to them.

The $3,000 in question was supposed to come from the County’s Convention & Visitors Board (CVB), and the city has previously received funding from the county for the event from them for the event

Funds for the CVB come in part from the county’s accommodations tax, which is attached to bills at hotels, motels and similar lodging.

The County’s Community Development/Strategic Planning Committee recommended last week Thursday not to extend funding from the Convention & Visitors Bureau to the City of Muskegon Heights for their annual Festival in the Park, coming up in mid-June.

This was pushed by community and Tea Party member Susie Hughes, who argued last week that the county should not be funding specific festivals and events.

After motion to extend $3,000 to the event was defeated last week in committee, the full board resurrected the discussion.
At several points, proposals were made to not give the full $3,000 but a portion of the funding.  Eventually the Board of Commissioners narrowly passed a 5-6 motion to give $2,000, a motion made by Commissioner Rillastine Wilkins and seconded by Commissioner Anthony Longmire.

Close Decision, Unsure Board

While partial funding is now secured for the Festival in the Park, the discussion leading to the decision were wide-ranging and identified a need for better rules for approving these kinds of requests.

The discussions leading up to this decision included board members, Hughes, plus the mayor of Muskegon Heights Mayor Darrell Paige and several Muskegon Heights city council members.

With the festival coming up in less than a month on June 17-19, Paige noted that not being able to count on that money would be devastating:

“We rely on that donation to put that festival on.”

Councilwoman Dorothy Scott and a community member both noted that the festival is one of the few times a year that the City of Muskegon Heights comes together, especially seniors and young people

Councilwoman Kimberly Sims followed on the point by noting that benefits to Muskegon Heights would benefit the county as a whole.

Speaking from a monetary perspective, Commissioner Alan Jager noted that the county and CVB were strapped for funds in their own right, along with Muskegon Heights

“Times are hard. That’s the way it is.”

In the discussion preceding Tuesday’s vote, several Commissioners had conflicting opinions on how the board should approach requests like these.  Board chair Ken Mahoney noted the County receives about 100 requests like Muskegon Heights’ each year.

Commissioner Longmire countered Jager’s budget point by pointing out that the committee and board approved a $2,000 contribution to the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant at the same meeting.

“I don’t see why all of a sudden, while we allowed the $2,000 for the beauty pageant, now we’re concerned about finances with the City of Muskegon Heights… it borderlines hypocrisy.”

Commissioner Bob Scolnik pointed out that events like Miss Michigan bring people into the community, referred to by the hospitality industry as “heads in beds”.  It had not been proven by the Festival in the Park that they bring people from outside the county.

Commissioner Snider argued that the county should not make contributions that are area-specific, but should look for other ways to distribute the accommodations tax to all who contribute to it, not in an event-by-event basis.

Commissioner Scott Plummer emphasized a desire for better criteria about how to approve requests like these.

No plans were yet set at Tuesday’s meeting to further discuss the issue.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst