Ashland city leaders pulled their fiscal belt one notch tighter Thursday night, reducing funding to Summer Motion.
After a lengthy debate, Ashland City Commissioners ultimately approved by a vote of 4 to 1 to contribute $24,000 to the festival. Summer Motion had requested $30,000, the level of funding the city has provided for much of the event’s 25-year history, according to officials.
Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs cast her vote against funding the festival, citing the city’s ongoing budget woes and the move by officials last week to raise payroll and alcohol taxes.
Spriggs said she felt the city’s in-kind contribution of $39,000 was sufficient. “I don’t think it’s the city’s role to do this,” she said. “It’s not my job to raise taxes and give it away,” she added.
Ashland provides in-kind contributions from city staff, including police, fire, utilities and road crews. The five-day Summer Motion festival is planned and run by a committee of volunteers.
The annual festival relies on donations and fundraising to pay for its expenses, including booking large entertainment acts and the fireworks display. Attendance at Summer Motion concerts and events is free.
Commissioners Larry Brown and Marty Gute supported the 20 percent cut in funding to mirror the cut the city made in funding it specifically set aside for nonprofits and festivals. Brown also raised concern with the timing of the contribution, saying he thought the city was going to abstain until it had a better idea of how revenue projections were holding.
Commissioner Kevin Gunderson and Mayor Chuck Charles supported giving the festival its full requested amount, as per City Manager Steve Corbitt’s recommendation. Corbitt suggested the city fully fund the festival this year, and make a reduction next year, citing the fact that the festival is less than two weeks from commencing.
Charles, who served as Summer Motion president for many years, disputed Spriggs’ assertion that the city “was giving money away” to festivals and non-profits. “I see it as investments in some of the ones that do serve as economic drivers to our town,” said Charles. Ashland historically makes contributions to all three major festivals in town including Poage Landing Days and the Winter Wonderland of Lights, along with other non-profits like the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center and the Paramount Arts Center.
“This is our signature event,” said Gunderson, who ultimately seemed to broker the deal to provide $24,000 to the festival. “It is something if left up to the city, should survive, that is as essential as a city service,” he said.
A study some years ago estimated Summer Motion’s economic impact at well over $1 million, said festival president Cade Mahan following the tense meeting. “It is an investment into the city. Summer Motion is, for the most part, the single largest economic impactor to the city at one particular point in time,” he said. There is also a large “social impact” from having it, Mahan said. “As commissioner Gunderson said, it is our flagship festival. One of the things Ashland is known for is Summer Motion.”
Mahan, in his first year of steering the festival, said he was “extremely grateful” for the city’s continued monetary support. “We are ecstatic for any contribution from the city. We are extremely grateful for all the city does for us,” said Mahan.
“We rely on contributions from the city all the way down to the average citizen that gives us $100 or $200 to help take pride in a festival we give to the community in our backyard,” he said. “It is something we as a community and as citizens should take great pride in supporting to help secure its success for another 25 years.”
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org