By Kevin Werner, News staff
Stoney Creek’s Santa Claus Parade volunteers are accusing city hall staff and politicians of acting like Grinches and putting at risk the future of the popular community event.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Grinch and it lives at city hall,” says Rob Naylor, one of six volunteers who have helped to organize the parade.
Last November, volunteers were shocked to learn they would have to pay about $12,941.50 for policing costs, installing the barricades, and signage for the road where the parade would occur, costs that the city in past had paid.
“That’s a 70 per cent increase,” said Naylor.
If it wasn’t for the quick intervention of Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark, who secured $15,000 in annual funding for three years from the Heritage Green Trust fund, the 2012 parade would have been cancelled.
“I was pleased to help,” said Clark. “They didn’t have enough.So far, the parade is secured for the next couple of years. But it isn’t out of the woods yet.”
Naylor said the money, while much appreciated, only covered what the city billed the parade organizers. And to rub salt into their wound, not only did the city send a $784 bill to organizers Jan. 29 for road signage, it also rejected their Community Partnership Program application in 2012 – and for the next two years – because of the $15,000 grant.
Connie Behie, another Stoney Creek Santa Claus Parade volunteer, said the city’s “cookie cutter” approach to funding community events doesn’t take into consideration the specific needs and costs of each volunteer organization. “I just don’t understand the changes,” she said. “There was a lot of confusion from the city. If it wasn’t for Brad Clark, we would not have a parade.”
Behie and Naylor were still stunned a day after receiving the $784 bill from the city. Behie said the organizers believed the bill for the signs was included in the initial $5,454.48 for the road barricades costs. “I just can’t believe what they are doing,” she said. “This has all came as a shock to us. We are not-for-profit. This is strictly a community parade, free for the public. It just looks like they want our event to die.”
The parade’s budget for this year is $18,287 said Naylor, with a significant portion of the money coming from local businesses that helps pay for an event that features bands, cadets, and youth groups. Behie said the volunteers also hold fundraisers such as a golf tournament, dances and a car wash during the year. But as the city cuts back on providing money to community groups, they are being forced to work harder to raise the funds necessary to keep their local events going, organizers say.
Parade organizers said they didn’t know they would have to start paying for the policing and road costs in 2012. Late last year, they were told by city officials to choose from a list of private companies that close roads for events. They selected a company, signed a contract and then hoped the company would actually do the job, said Behie. They were even more shocked when they found out the city wouldn’t be footing the $6,725 bill in policing costs.
Dundas councillor Russ Powers, chair of council’s grants committee, said the higher costs were communicated in advance to local festival organizers. He said three years ago council agreed to cut its funding to community groups while increasing the amount of CPP grants to festivals and parades. The city wanted groups to pay for policing and road closures.
The Stoney Creek Santa Claus Parade applied for the grant, said Naylor, and was expecting to receive $4,176. But that was scuttled by the city once the organizers received the trust fund money.
“We started to shift the cost,” Powers said. “It should not have been a surprise to them.”
In the Special Event Advisory Team application form states that the city “no longer provides events with barricades, pylons, set-up, staff, ‘road closed’ signage or other supplies needed to close the road.”
In addition, it states the city does not pay the cost of traffic detour signs, or warning boards that may be needed for the events.
The city contributed about $3.6 million to community groups in 2012, said Powers. He has sponsored a motion to increase the community grants budget by $65,000 for this year.
The 2012 Santa Claus Parade was the most successful event in a long time, organizers say, featuring about 80 entries, and drawing crowds of people. Naylor said organizers’ total budget for the year was $32,876.96, spending $18,287 to get the bands.
Organizers have already signed a number of bands for the 2013 event, including a Jamaican steel band, keeping their promise to make the community parade even better than 2012, despite the extra costs.
Naylor wondered why, if there is a problem finding money for community events, the city doesn’t ask Mayor Bob Bratina to take the cash he saves from his office budget and provide it to community groups.
“The mayor rides in the parade, and everybody cheers,” said Naylor. “The city is doing nothing for us. The public is giving the money, but the city is just taking it.”
In addition to Stoney Creek, organizers of parades in Hamilton and Waterdown, as well as Stoney Creek’s Flag Day volunteers, are also struggling to pay the extra costs the city has imposed upon them.
Naylor said it may be futile, but the Stoney Creek volunteers plan to meet their colleagues from Hamilton and Waterdown to compare notes, and see if they can fight city hall.
“What do we pay taxes for?” he asked. “We are not making any money. It’s actually costing us money. They sit in their ivory towers making these decisions. But all of us are doing it because we love the community, and we want to do something for it. We are not going to give up.”