Festival Funds Need Review
"Hampton Union", Friday, July 29, 2011
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
This past week, we've learned what we've long suspected: The Hampton Beach Seafood Festival produced each year by the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce makes a lot of money. A lot of money.
After the Hampton Union found the chamber's federal IRS tax filings posted on the Web site for GuideStar (www.guidestar.com) — an organization which makes public nonprofits' earnings — chamber leaders sat down with reporter Patrick Cronin to review the annual event's earnings and expenses.
We thought this exercise would resolve the many questions about festival revenues that have swirled for years. While we are satisfied with some of the answers we received, as is often true, some discoveries led to more questions. That is where we find ourselves now with the festival's tax documents.
The filings show that each year from 2005 to 2010, the festival generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenues for the chamber. Chamber officials this week stressed the money earned each year goes back into funding the upcoming year's event, and we're surprised by how much the chamber spends to host the annual festival.
Some years, chamber officials say, even with the festival profits, the organization as a whole still lands in the red. For example, a 2010 tax return for the nonprofit organization shows the chamber generated $541,483 in gross revenue from the Seafood Festival last year. But after expenses — listed as $449,986 — the festival netted a $81,497 profit, which officials said went back into the chamber's $760,000 operating budget as a whole. Even with that revenue, the nonprofit landed in the red in 2010, with a deficit of $26,738, according to its 2010 tax return.
We say again the festival is a wonderful event and we believe in its goals to elevate the profile of Hampton Beach as a tourist destination, attract hundreds of thousands of tourists and area residents to the beach each September and add to the coffers of Hampton area businesses. There's no denying the festival is a huge success and that fact is to be celebrated.
But we also reiterate it was at best foolish and at worst downright arrogant for festival Chairman Jude David and chamber leaders to have asked selectmen earlier this month for an abatement or waiver on their bills for town services in support of the 2010 festival. We again say the town should provide the festival no such break and we're glad to hear selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols has publicly said no waiver on town fees will be granted to the chamber.
From the figures we've seen, we believe the chamber is quite capable of paying its bills. We ask chamber officials, in a gesture of good faith, to bring back the days when Hampton residents enjoyed the festival for free on Friday nights. We believe this could and should be done as a way to thank residents for the festival's use of public resources, notably Ocean Boulevard, for the weekend. If festival officials find the town's invoices so onerous, we suggest they review their expenses to trim fat from their budget and find some cost efficiencies. In these economic times, this exercise is nothing less than what other public leaders and private families are doing across the nation.
Ultimately, because the chamber is a private organization, it will be up to chamber members to determine whether they are happy with chamber leadership, how the festival is run, and the services the chamber as a whole provides to the local business community. One thing's for certain: We'll be watching.