Nonprofits struggle to keep fests free

Kristen Pierce talks about the budget for providing festivals in the area.

NEW ORLEANS – With festival season in full swing, some organizers are trying to figure out how to pay for expenses after a new rule ended fee waivers for nonprofit special events.

Jared Zeller with Mothership Foundation said last year the City of New Orleans waived fees associated with Bayou Boogaloo. This year, that did not happen. In January, the City Council passed a fee waiver reform that ended the longstanding policy of waiving special event fees for nonprofits. Instead, the council will reduce the fees.

That reduction for Bayou Boogaloo originally ended with a $21,000 bill, and that's before they pay for insurance and police details.

"This is a labor of love,” said Zeller. “No one is getting rich here, but I think the perception is when you see thousands of people at an event, you think people are making money but a lot of nonprofits are hanging on by a thread."

City Council reports in 2016 alone, they waived more than $2 million in fees for special events and they could use that money in the general fund.

"It had gotten to a point where taxpayers were paying for these events and that made me uncomfortable,” said City Councilwoman Susan Guidry. “They do community work and they help our community so we want them to be able to share public space in a way that's less expensive than a private party, but we do have to watch out for the taxpayer all around."

Zeller said his $21,000 bill was reduced. He worked out a deal with the city where he maintains the trees along the bayou and keeps the area clean in return for reduced fees. The cost now is about $8,000. It sounds like a decent deal but Jared said keeping the festival free gets harder every year.

"We think about charging every year,” he explained. “When you start an event in the hole, you have to think about charging. It's a delicate situation."

Zeller also provided an economic impact analysis conducted by The University of New Orleans. The study found about $24,000 will be claimed by local governments in the New Orleans area. Councilwoman Guidry said it's true that the city benefits from festivals.

"These festivals bring money into the city (but that) doesn't mean that we can give away public land for them but it is something that we can take into consideration," said Guidry.

Bayou Boogaloo is the Mothership Foundation's biggest fundraiser. Organizers said the free festival costs about $500,000 to put on and this year, they're going into the event with only about $150,000. That money is from sponsors, grants and vendors, so they're hoping people buy drinks and donate to the organization.

The Mothership Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging social change by improving the quality of life for Louisiana residents through the promotion of arts, culture and recreation.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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