Talk about terrible timing. Less than two weeks before the start of Summer Motion, by far the most popular annual attraction in northeastern Kentucky, the Ashland Board of City Commissioners has slashed the city’s annual contribution to the event by $6,000.
Instead of the $30,000 Ashland taxpayers have been contributing to Summer Motion each year for many years, the city will only be giving $24,000 this year. With the city commission raising the payroll tax to 2 percent and making significant other cuts in spending, a $6,000 cut in funds for Summer Motion would not have been unreasonable. But the city commission was wrong to wait until just before the start of the festival to make the cuts.
Because of the late date, City Manager Steve Corbitt suggested the city commission give its full $30,000 contribution this year while announcing plans to reduce the city’s contribution for Summer Motion 2014 . That would have given Summer Motion organizers time to seek new sources of funding in 2014 and to find ways to cut the cost of the immensely popular five-day festival at Veterans Riverfront Park and at Central Park.
But the budget for Summer Motion has been set. Contracts for the entertainment acts — including Styx, Sawyer Brown, Loverboy and Landon Murphy Jr. — have been signed. Plans for the July 4th fireworks show are in place. In short, it is too late to change many of those plans.
But supporters of Summer Motion should consider themselves lucky to get $24,000 from city government for the upcoming festival. City Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs was advocating eliminating all city funding for Summer Motion. Citing the city’s ongoing budget woes and the move by officials last week to raise payroll and alcohol taxes, Spriggs cast her vote against funds for Summer Motion.
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.”
Ashland provides in-kind contributions from city staff, including police, fire, utilities and road crews. Of course, some of those people would be working and some of those expenses would be incurred even if there were no Summer Motion.
City Commissioners Larry Brown and Marty Gute supported the 20 percent cut in funding, to mirror the cut the city made across the board in funding set aside for non-profits and festivals. Commissioner Kevin Gunderson and Mayor Chuck Charles supported giving the festival its full requested amount, as per Corbitt’s recommendation. Mayor Charles served as Summer Motion president for many years, stepping down to run unopposed for mayor. How ironic it is that in his first year as mayor, Charles must fight to maintain city support for Summer Motion.
When he became mayor, Charles said he wanted to make Ashland a “destination city” for tourists and not just a stopping place for travelers on their way to somewhere else. Well, people from other areas annually come to Ashland for Summer Motion. They come to see quality entertainment on the riverfront, a great fireworks show and a great arts and crafts show. And it all occurs in a pleasant family atmosphere free of drunken behavior. People know they can take their whole family to Summer Motion.
And the best thing about Summer Motion is that it is free. You don’t have to pay outrageous prices for concert tickets. For many Ashland residents of modest means, Summer Motion provides their only chance to see major performers in concert. The people at a Sumer Motion concert are a mix of the city’s entire population.
Charles 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.
Cade Mahan, who succeeded Charles as Summer Motion president , said a study some years ago estimated Summer Motion’s economic impact at well over $1 million. “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.” Exactly so,
As Spriggs correctly said, the city commission just raised the payroll tax by a half percent. People who work in Ashland but live elsewhere do not receive much in the way of services for the hundreds of dollars they pay in payroll taxes each year, but one thing they do get is the free Summer Motion concerts. Teenagers who work only a few hours a week for minimum wage can know that their payroll taxes are going to support Summer Motion.
Ask the managers of hotels and motels that are filled during Summer Motion if they think supporting the festival is a waste of city tax dollars. Ask the restaurants filled to overflowing for those getting a bite to eat before a concert. Ask the food venders who line up in Central Park and on the riverfront during Summer Motion if they think the festival is worth the investment. Ask the city officials if they appreciate the taxes those vendors and their employees pay.
People come to Ashland each year for the Winter Wonderland of Lights, Poage Landing Days, concerts at the Paramount Arts Center, the Ashland Christmas Parade and perhaps a few other events. But no other attraction is as popular as Summer Motion. It is an asset this community needs to cherish and support. Cutting funding for it at the last minute is no way to support one of the few events that comes close to making Ashland a “destination city.”