Sackville Town Council debated the pros and cons of supporting a “for-profit”entertainment business Monday night before deciding in a split 5-2 vote to contribute $12,000 to sponsor three, free concerts this summer on the shores of Silver Lake.
The concerts, called Levee on the Lake, are being organized by Garrison Hill Entertainment, a privately owned company that has recruited several other sponsors including the Royal Bank, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation and New Country, a radio station in Moncton.
The first concert is scheduled from noon to five p.m. on July 18 with others to follow in August and September.
‘Hungry for events’
“I know that the community is hungry for events,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “We’re all dealing with frustration about the pandemic and I understand there’s a desire for things like this to happen.”
Evans was referring to plans for staging the five-hour concerts from a property on the Mount View Rd. shore of Silver Lake to audiences gathered in boats and other craft at safe distances on the water.
“It’s going to create some buzz for our community,” said Councillor Shawn Mesheau. “I challenge our downtown business community and our hotels and B and Bs to kind of step up at this point in time and be a part of this. Here’s your opportunity.”
Mesheau noted that the town would be committing itself to providing $3,000 as an “in-kind” contribution for the use of town boat ramps, snow fencing and other services plus $4,000 in cash for each of the three concerts, but only after proper expense receipts have been submitted.
“If things are cancelled, there’s really no cost to the municipality other than the in-kind services,” Mesheau said.
‘Can of worms’
Councillor Joyce O’Neil said that while she would be willing to provide the in-kind contribution, she opposed supporting a private venture with public money.
“I feel we will be opening a can of worms if we provide financial funding to an organization that’s other than a not-for-profit one,” O’Neil said.
Councillor Andrew Black also opposed the cash contribution to Levee on the Lake.
“This request is asking for public funds to support a business that will be putting on an event for Sackvillians, which would be great for people to attend,” Black said. “But I’ve heard from a few constituents and it’s my belief that using public funds to support a business like this is not a good idea.”
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken argued that supporting the concerts would not set a precedent because the town already contributes money to such organizations as Sappyfest and Live Bait Theatre.
“Those, although they don’t generally make a profit, are not technically not-for-profit organizations,” Aiken said, adding that last year the town paid for entertainers to come — “those are essentially one-person businesses that make a profit.”
Aiken said the free concerts could help local restaurants and hotels.
When Mayor Higham called the vote, Deputy Mayor Aiken along with Councillors Evans, Mesheau, Tower and Butcher voted in favour of the contribution to Levee on the Lake while Councillors O’Neil and Black voted against. (Councillor Bruce Phinney was apparently unable to attend the online meeting because of password issues with his laptop computer.)
Sappyfest chair expresses dismay
Jeska Grue, chair of Sappyfest says she was “angry and disheartened” last night when she learned that town council had decided to support a series of for-profit concerts with three times the amount it contributes each year to Sappyfest.
During a telephone interview and also on Facebook, Grue pointed out that Sappyfest has been a registered, non-profit organization since 2009. (According to its website, Live Bait Theatre is also a registered non-profit.)
“Sappyfest receives $4,000 a year after we apply for a town grant,” she says, adding the festival’s total budget is about $120,000.
“So our funding from the town is just 3% of our overall expenses,” she adds. “It is the largest visitor draw to Sackville each year for well over 10 years,” she says, adding that Sappyfest has never accepted corporate sponsorship, partly because of its mandate.
“I’m firm in my conviction that for-profit, corporate sponsor-driven festivals serve an entirely different mandate than not-for-profit festivals. And last night, town council voted to approve funding towards one with a dollar amount local non-profit orgs couldn’t even dream of,” Grue wrote in her Facebook post.
To those living here, what the hell!” she added.