Columbus debates Fabulous 4th festival

Published 8:00 am Saturday, March 17, 2018

Council approves $10,000 contract for fireworks

COLUMBUS — Columbus Town Council members debated the Fabulous 4th of July festival, with some saying it costs too much money and others saying it is a benefit to the town.

The council met Thursday and approved a $10,000 contract with Zambelli Fireworks for this year’s festival.

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The discussion began because Zambelli has alerted the town that, next year, the costs for the same show will increase to $12,000.

The council directed Town Manager Tim Barth to negotiate locking in a three-year contract with Zambelli at the $10,000 cost, with Barth responding that he does not know that they will do that, but he will ask.

Councilman Mark Phillips said the town is losing money every year on the festival, and a recent proposal to the Fourth of July committee to increase vendor fees was shot down.

Phillips said the vendor fees do not cover the fireworks.

Barth said the festival ends in the red every year, with the town spending between $15,000 and $17,000, depending on personnel costs and revenues being between $8,000 and $9,000, and depending on revenue from the children’s rides.

Councilman Robert Williamson said the festival is an investment into the community, with the town receiving sales tax revenue from everything people purchase in town.

“We get more people in town for the Fourth of July festival than any other time of the year,” Williamson said.

Councilwoman Margaret Metcalf said she thinks more people come for the fireworks in recent years.

She asked if the town could cut the firework show in half, to 10 minutes instead of 20, to save money.

“I don’t know that downtown during the day is drawing as much as we need to be drawing, but, at night, they come,” Metcalf said.

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre said it would be nice if the town could break even on the festival, but it is an investment, and sometimes, that is the cost of doing business.

Phillips asked the others if someone is losing that kind of money in their 401(k) investment, would they stay in that investment. Phillips said he is not saying to stop the festival, but, if the town is losing that much money every year, there has to be a way to cut down on that loss.

Metcalf said if the town increases vendor fees, they could lose a lot of vendors.

She said there is too much going on now, and the days where people came and sat on the courthouse lawn all day for the festival are over. She suggested getting together with all the towns and the county, and asking if they would help Columbus on the firework show.

Williamson asked what are the competing events. He said there are about 10,000 people who come to the festival and, if they only spent $10 each, that’s $100,000 worth of spending in the town.

Phillips and Metcalf said they do not think the numbers of people attending the festival are that high anymore.

Williamson said he is basing his estimates on doing economic studies.

Metcalf said she is basing hers on living here, and she sees it going down a lot.

“It’s nice to throw those figures out, but I don’t think that’s the case,” Metcalf said.

Columbus Police Chief Chris Beddingfield said his department has noticed that the mornings and afternoons are slow during the festival the past few years. He said people come for a certain event, such as a band, and it is very slow until the sun goes down, then the department cannot keep up.

He said vendor rates have been raised and they still are cheaper than anywhere else. Beddingfield also said he has heard the same sentiments from citizens that it is not fair for a town of 1,000 people to fit the bill for 10,000 people from the county, while others say the festival is good for the town. He said raising vendor fees is the only way he sees the festival not costing the town so much money.

Town Clerk Monica Pace said she suggested to the committee the town go up on fees. The crafters and nonprofits currently pay $30 for a space. Pace also said the town has a waiting list for vendors every year.

Pace, who used to work in Saluda and organized Coon Dog Day, and McIntyre, who used to serve as the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival Chair, both said the other festivals have much higher vendor fees.

“If I was a crafter and knew that many people were coming, I’d throw $100 on the table,” said McIntyre.

Councilman Richard Hall said he is a crafter, and the fees went up one time and he did not come back for 10 years, however.

Pace suggested getting sponsors from companies for the festival to offset some costs. The council directed Pace to create a sponsorship package for next year’s festival, as the fireworks are likely increasing then.

Council members also directed Pace to look at other small town festivals in the area to see what they are charging for vendors.