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HCN file photo

HCN file photo

A scene from the 2013 Fsetival of Friends at the Ancaster Fairgrounds.

Council holds Festival of Friends funding hostage

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Hamilton councillors are holding back over $60,000 in grants to Festival of Friends until the volunteer organization provides the city with audited financial statements.

“I wouldn’t be forwarding any more money,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark who urged his colleagues to approve his motion.

“We asked exactly the same thing from all other organizations. They haven’t complied in a few years. If they want the rest of the money give us the audited financial statements.”

Politicians, in a 9-2 vote supported the motion.

Clark said Festival of Friends officials have known about the city’s requirement and haven’t followed it. It makes the city “look like chumps,” said Clark.

“They haven’t complied for a few years,” added Clark. “We have to fix this once and for all.”

But Loren Lieberman, general manager of Festival of Friends, who confronted Clark in a heated exchange outside the council chambers soon after politicians approved the motion, told both the media and Clark he has provided the city with the organization’s 2012 financial statements, and will be giving the city the 2013 audited statements next year. He said the city even confirmed Festival of Friends’ information through email.

“We have abided (by the city’s requests),” said Lieberman. “This is a real (crappy) move.”

Mike Zegarac, corporate services general manager, said in 2012 Festival of Friends provided the city with a “statement of operations.” Other organizations, Zegarac said, sent the city “more complete” audited financial statements. He said in 2012 it was the first time the city had asked for audited statements. But Zegarac said there is no formal policy or requirement by the city for organizations to give the city audited financial statements in return for city funding.

“It’s a practice, not a policy,” said Zegarac.

He said the city sends a letter to all organizations in August requesting audited financial statements from the organizations when councillors review requests for funding the following January.

Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead said to impose a new condition on Festival of Friends, which isn’t a charitable organization, especially at year’s end, that doesn’t comply with past process by the city is not appropriate.

“At the end of the day it’s about fairness,” said Whitehead.

The city has already provided the organization, like it does to all boards and agencies, some percentage of their funding between January and April. The city has given the Festival of Friends $21,000. The balance, $64,270, has yet to be provided to the organization.

“We rely on every dime we get,” said Lieberman.

Lieberman said the funding is about seven per cent of Festival of Friend’s budget. And while the organization isn’t depending upon the funding to hold their event, the move by politicians at their March 20 budget meeting, sends a disturbing signal to the group.

“If the city doesn’t want to support it, why would we give (the event) to Hamiltonians?” said Lieberman.

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