Budget cuts could bring festival woes

With more budget cuts expected following Mayor Nutter’s announcement last month that the city’s five-year deficit could reach $2 billion, local LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations are feeling the effects of the city’s financial crisis.

The original round of budget cuts, introduced in November, contained a provision that will impact organizers of city festivals, such as the several LGBT-oriented events held throughout the next few months.

The initial budget cuts stipulated that organizers of outdoor events would be required to reimburse the city for “collection and cleaning associated with major special events,” which the plan describes could cut city costs by about $175,000.

The budget also specified that the city would seek reimbursement for police overtime for special events.

Luke Butler, spokesperson for the mayor’s press office, confirmed last month that the city would collect these fees from organizers of all outdoor city events, although he was unsure how much these services would cost.

Karla Sainz, spokesperson for the Council of Spanish-Speaking Organizations Inc. (El Concilio), said the city informed her organization of the new regulations when the group’s business manager began the process of applying for permits for El Concilio’s numerous outdoor events, such as the Hispanic Fiesta in July and the Puerto Rican Parade in September.

“We have had to consider cutting the event short, reducing the timespan, so we can afford to pay for these things or having to raise the amount of money that we charge people who participate in the parade, which is not something we want to do,” Sainz said. “We’re considering what options we have, but having to pay for police and trash collection is a big, big obstacle for us right now.”

Sainz said El Concilio is still working with the city to determine how much the new provisions will cost the organization.

Franny Price, president of Philly Pride Presents, which stages June’s Pride celebration at Penn’s Landing and October’s OutFest in the Gayborhood, said she has not been in contact with the city about the issue yet, but that she’s not concerned about trash collection, as the organization does not enlist city assistance for cleanup because the group’s volunteers clean and bag trash on their own following both events.

Price did, however, say the group could face extra expenses in paying for police, who patrol both events.

Price said she also received a letter last week from the city’s managing director, Camille Cates Barnett, detailing that Philly Pride Presents will now be financially responsible for festival equipment, such as podiums and the reviewing stand for the Pride parade. Price said this, too, should not impact the organization, as it has always paid for its own equipment.

“What was actually upsetting about this letter was that it meant that somebody was getting that for free,” Price said. “We pay for it on our own all the time so for them to send out that letter means that some people have been getting that equipment comped.”

Chip Alfred, spokesperson for Equality Forum, which stages the large street festival Sunday Out! in May, said the organization received the same letter, but he was unsure if Equality Forum would need to utilize the city’s rental equipment this year, as it typically has not in the past.

Local nonprofits are also grappling with the loss of a city grant initiative that provided funding for the marketing of organizational and neighborhood festivals.

The city commerce department’s Marketing, Planning and Community Festival Funding Program, which had been in place since 2001, was discontinued at the beginning of 2008. The program allocated $10,000 to organizations putting on single-day events and $25,000 to those sponsoring multi-day festivals.

Sara Merriman, director of policy initiatives at the commerce department, said the program was discontinued as a result of limited finances coupled with internal restructuring.

“Prior to the new administration, the city representative and director of commerce were the same people, but because of a charter change, the city representative became responsible exclusively for the promotion of the city and special events,” Merriman said. “And the core services for the department of commerce were more closely defined as essentially having to do with economic development as related to for-profit businesses.”

Merriman said the program, which dispersed funding to about 40 local nonprofits in 2007, was successful but it was not feasible for the department to continue it.

“The program was very popular, a lot of great things that happened as a result of it, but ultimately because the core activities of the department were more sharply defined and everybody has limited funding, we had to make a choice about the level of service that we provided. We took all mention of the program off the Web site and notified former recipients as they inquired about it.”

Price said Philly Pride Presents received the $10,000 grant from the commerce department in 2004 and 2007, but was told last year that there were no funds available.

Alfred said he could not comment on if and when Equality Forum obtained the grant and how the revocation of the grant could impact this year’s event.

Gloria Casarez, the city’s director of LGBT affairs, emphasized that the city’s LGBT and other festivals were thriving and their performance had no impact on the discontinuation of the grant program.

“The initiative definitely backed some of our community organizations, some more than others, because not all groups applied every year. But some did begin to rely on that funding and then the program was discontinued and some of the groups began to find out as they started inquiring about continued funding,” Casarez said. “It wasn’t not continued because these groups weren’t successful or weren’t bringing in enough people; our folks were very successful and weren’t not funded through any fault of their own.”

Casarez met with the board of the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus Jan. 22 during the group’s board meeting to discuss ways the local LGBT community can respond to the loss of this grant and other city funding.

“Obviously this means organizations are going to have to look externally for support,” Casarez said. “It’s a double challenge because these grantees are going to have to look externally when there’s a long line for external support right now, and external funders have their dollars tighter, too. It’s understandably a tough climate for folks to have to engage with external sponsors.”

Casarez said local organizations seeking outside funding sources should emphasize to potential funders that they lost their funding because of the city’s financial woes and for no other reason.

“The fact that these organizations were in otherwise good standing is something that new funders deserve to know. It doesn’t mean it’ll free up their resources if they’re tight already, but I think that if a funder has to decide between two groups and knows that this one was a former city grantee in good standing and the funding source just doesn’t exist anymore, they may look more favorably on that organization.”

Leaders of LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations around the city said they haven’t heard anything definitive about whether any of their city funding will be discontinued, but all said they were anxiously awaiting the details of the continued budget cuts.

Louis Bonilla, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative, said the organization does receive some funding from the city’s general fund, which he said he believes is safe for the time being.

“So far we haven’t heard how we will be affected, but we are waiting with baited breath on what the city will determine,” Bonilla said. “Many nonprofits run on tight budgets as it is, so if anything is cut, it will affect some of our services but we’re hoping to limit the effects.”

’Dolph Ward Goldenburg, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center, said the only city funding the center receives is the $350,000 the city is contributing toward the construction of an elevator in the building.

“Our contract is moving forward, and we haven’t heard anything from the city to indicate otherwise,” Goldenburg said.

Michael Hinson, interim executive director for The COLOURS Organization Inc., said his organization receives city funding only to the extent that it is a project of the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, which receives city money.

“COLOURS doesn’t receive any funding from the city’s general fund, which is probably where the impact of the cuts is mostly going to happen,” Hinson said. “Most of the money we receive is federal or state funding passed down through the city. In that way, there’s less of a chance, but not no chance, that those funds are going to be affected.”

Ron Sy, executive director of AIDS Services in Asian Communities, noted that ASIAC and many other local HIV/AIDS organizations receive funding from the Centers for Disease Control and the state and federal governments. He said the city oversees portions of this funding but that it is not directly drawn from the city budget, which he said could aid them now, although in light of the nationwide economic crisis, the future of this funding is not certain.

“We might not be cut now, but there is that possibility in the future,” Sy said.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].