Stimulus: Local Style – Cash for Punkers

Stimulus: Local Style – Cash for Punkers

By Randy Covington
Conservative Research Network

Not many citizens know the lower level details of how our local government works. We understand on an intuitive level that local government is established to provide the basic services we need for everyday life, water, sewer, police fire schools, libraries, parks and roads. We expect our elected representatives to focus on the minutiae of how that is all accomplished.

In St. Johns County, we have a broad net of services that provide us a high quality of life we are all comfortable with and proud of. It is central to our well being and a very important aspect of what makes it attractive to people to want to move here. Many of you may have heard our Commissioners talk in proud terms of the quality of the services St. Johns County delivers to us as citizens and the specifics of how those services are delivered. A case in point is Ron Sanchez, Chairman of the Commission and the incumbent from District 2 running for re-election.

On several occasions, I have heard Commissioner Sanchez speak proudly of the work of the Special Events Division of the Parks and Recreation Department. Specifically, this division runs the Amphitheater and produces the “special events” funded by Category II taxes collected through the “bed tax”. He has spoken glowingly of the excellent events they produce and the financial success they have been. He made such a presentation in front of the Republican Club of NW St. Johns County earlier this year. Specifically, he said that the division made money on “most” of the events, that there were just a few where there was “not a profit”. He claims as much on his website. He also claims that the “bed tax” is paid by “tourists”.

Just to be clear, the “bed tax”, is levied against short-term accommodations, defined as every living accommodation rented under terms of less than 6 months. The majority of this money is collected from the hotel and motel rentals paid by tourists coming into our county and staying overnight. However, as is customary with taxes, there are others who will bear that tax due to the structure and legal definition of the tax. In this case, the citizens of St. Johns County that pay this tax are the poor and the homeless who have to rent their living space under short term leasing arrangements or are in transitional housing. If they are not paying it, then the county is not collecting it for one reason or another.

In the last few years, there have been a series of events, funded with Category II tax monies and produced by the St. Johns County Special Event Division headed by Troy Blevins. Among those events were:

The Harvest of Hope Fest held at the St, Johns County Fair Grounds in March 2009
The Harvest of Hope Fest held at the St, Johns County Fair Grounds in March 2010
The Southern Exposure Arts Festival held at Alpine Park in 2009
The Southern Exposure Arts Festival held at Alpine Park in 2010

The Harvest Of Hope Festival – 2009

The Harvest of Hope Foundation was selected to be the co-promoter and, I assume the beneficiary of any profits that were to derive from the festival. That has been the structure of some of these types of events. The production of these events, in terms of all purchasing and disbursements, was handled by St. Johns County Special Events Division. It seems that the Harvest of Hope Foundation’s main participation was in lining up and selecting the bands for the show, some marketing duties and on-site management duties in concert with SJC Special Events.

In 2009, the Harvest of Hope Festival was recommended for funding in the form of a $50,000 grant from Category II tax monies. The event was held at the SJC Fairgrounds the weekend of March 6th-9th. There were 6,754 tickets sold, 1,830 were for one day only and the rest were for 3-day passes, of which 989 were camping passes. The event was billed as “a three day, multiple stage alternative music festival”. In this case, that meant bands with such illustrative names as “Holy F##K” and “Her Space Holiday”. All of which are bands of the “Punk Rock” genre. Of course the festival featured the standard Mosh Pit.

Unfortunately for The Harvest of Hope Foundation, the financial success of this event left nothing for the benefit of the foundation. As per the closing statement for this 2009 event, the total direct loss on the festival was $ 30,818.00. That did not include the $ 50,000 grant awarded to the event by the TDC Category II funding panel.

The total taxpayer loss on this event is $ 80,818.00.
The total benefit to the county for this event is pretty much zero.

Many of those that attended camped out at the fairgrounds. Most ate there, they all drank huge amounts of beer there – $ 56,724.00 worth over the three days. Hopefully, those that attended on one day passes sobered up before they left to drive around St. Johns County roads that evening. Hopefully those that brought their children to the festival were sober enough to care for them. Is this really the image we wish to portray of St. Johns County to tourists?

See the closing statement from the 2010 Harvest of Hope Fest.

Conservative Research Network focuses on commentary and articles on local, state and federal government issues revolving around government waste, policy and function. They are conservatives focused on returning conservative principles to the Republican Party, accountability to government and power to the people to which it is reserved under the Constitution of the United States. The ideas expressed are those of the writer and are independent of those of Historic City News.

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