The Tasty Tomato Festival would have a zero bank account balance.
Viva La Vista faces cancellation this year.
The popular Main Street Italian Festival in September would be scaled back.
Festival organizers across the city are sweating because Columbia City Council is late this year in approving its allocation of $4.8 million in hospitality tax revenue used to promote tourism. Many organizations rely heavily on the money, which comes from the 2-cents-on-the dollar tax that patrons pay largely at restaurants and bars.
“We’re panicking a little bit,” Nick Pizzuti, chief organizer of the Italian festival that has attracted about 20,000 people in recent years, said Friday. His group is awaiting $40,000 in so-called “H-tax” money.
Kristen DuBard, a co-organizer of the 3-year-old, midsummer event in Rosewood that celebrates the tomato, said her group already held its event and covered the costs. But if it does not receive the $7,500 a citizens committee has recommended for the festival to offset expenses, “Our organization will pretty much be a zero,” DuBard said.
Council is expected to vote Tuesday on budget recommendations for nearly 100 recipients, who are expecting from $2,000 to $250,000 in hospitality tax revenue during the fiscal year that began July 1. Normally, council adopts the citizen advisory committee’s recommendation by early July.
Distribution of the revenue always is a hot issue on council, which receives far more requests than it has money budgeted for festivals and organizations that draw visitors to the capital city. This year, groups asked for $8 million. The citizen’s advisory committee recommended allotting $4.8 million. City Council divvies the rest, which this year is expected to reach a total of $9.3 million.
By state law, hospitality money may be used only to promote events and pay for entertainment or for security at events, said Libby Gober, the chief city staffer for the advisory committee.
Some council members this year want to add recipients, want to move funds around or want to change the way the city distributes the money. In some ways, that would mean going around the committee’s recommendations.
A committee of council members is looking into the matter. But council must vote soon on allocations for this fiscal year.
“Meetings have been postponed two, three times,” Pizzuti said of council. “What in the world is causing this?”
Efforts to reach Mayor Steve Benjamin to discuss the delays were unsuccessful Thursday and Friday. Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said Benjamin has several suggestions for changes in this year’s distribution.
The Italian festival is scheduled for Sept. 29, weeks earlier than previous years. After a year of planning the event, organizers are having to hold off on signing contracts for advertising and entertainment, Pizzuti said.
“If they put this off again,” he said of council, “something in the barrel is starting to smell. Somebody is putting pressure to pull some money somewhere and put it somewhere else.”
Pizzuti said he would be surprised if another delay occurs or if his group’s allotment gets cut.
Still, Sarah Luadzers, the director of the Vista Guild, the entertainment district’s advocacy organization, said Viva La Vista, the annual food-tasting festival held during the fall, will be canceled if council defers a decision again.
The guild, routinely one of the largest recipients of hospitality money, has been complaining publicly that it feels it is not getting its fair share.
Luadzers said the guild’s requests were cut by $30,000 last year and, tentatively, by $182,000 this year, to $225,000.
Businesses in the Vista annually generate the second-largest sum of hospitality revenue of any part of the city — more than $1 million yearly, according to city records. Businesses around Columbiana mall, off Harbison Boulevard, lead the pack. They produce more every year than the Vista and Five Points combined, the records show.
Large organizations such as the guild can absorb cuts better than fledgling events such as the tomato festival, which is in its third year.
“We’re a small organization and this is pretty much our major fund-raiser of the year,” DuBard said. “We’re anxiously awaiting.”
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.