Questions emerge about festival

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lewisburg councilmen seemed unanimous Tuesday night when they, in effect, said the show must go on, but there's no commitment from City Hall on how much money will be available for Goats Music and More.

Goat Fest, as it's often called, has grown to a four-day event, starting with a final showdown of bands in the Battle of Rock Creek on a Thursday night. Different breeds of goats are shown for top honors. Carnival rides are sold. Vendors sell food.

Country music bands with recognizable names, albeit those with hits more than a few years ago, were booked by the city manager, Eddie Fuller, who retired in October. He also booked tribute bands that simulate legendary performers such as Elvis and the Beatles.

During last year's Goat Fest, Lewisburg's Rotary Club let it be known that its barbecue contest would be held in June instead of at the festival. Various reasons were mentioned, but the club's decision raised questions then about the future of Goat Fest. The questions re-emerged publicly Tuesday.

Mayor Barbara Woods is being asked whether Goat Fest will be held this October, she reported. City Hall spending cuts prompted the question. The recession reduced revenue and various cuts became well known such as the city attorney's pay that was slashed in half.

"Vendors are calling every day," Woods told councilmen during a non-voting workshop on Tuesday night. Goats Music and More Committee volunteers are "reluctant to meet" without a decision from the city. Deciding at "budget time" will be too late.

Dollar amounts spent by the city -- as mentioned in discussion that night -- ranged from $80,000 to $100,000, indicating spending was trimmed 15-20 percent by councilmen when the fiscal year 2010-11 budget was assembled with help from the retiring city manager.

"I don't know why this is brought up just because someone retires," Councilman Ronald McRady reacted. "We don't stop city government because of one person."

"Should we," Woods asked, "tell them to go on?"

Councilman Robin Minor immediately responded with what seems to have been the consensus during the non-voting session.

"We've got to have Goats Music and More," Minor said.

Councilman Quinn Stewart agreed, but qualified the point: "Not to say there won't be another budget cut."

McRady drew his line.

"I'm not for cutting city employees for a goat show," he said.

Vendor schedules, as well as those of music groups are set in advance.

Without some commitment on what can be spent, the volunteers won't promise anything, Woods explained.

"Nothing is being done at this point," she said.

Goat Fest and other events such as the Bell Buckle Craft Fair, Pumpkin Fest in Franklin, the Jazz shows in Murfreesboro and Franklin, and Mule Day in Columbia are well-recognized as attracting big crowds of people who spend money locally.

"It brings in revenue to the city," Minor said.

How much is hard to quantify, but a cost benefit analysis formula that's used elsewhere was applied to the festival in 2009, according to Mike Wiles, the executive director of the local Joint Economic and Community Development Board.

That economist-styled view is limited, and it doesn't even include the increase in sales tax revenue and therefore more money for the city and county.

Cost benefit analysis is used at fishing tournaments, Wiles said. Formula have been developed by the University of Minnesota and the West Tennessee Alliance, he said. Estimates are made on attendance. Allowances are made for local residents spending less.

A multiplier of 1.3 is used to establish a dollar amount and then festival expenses are deducted, Wiles said. That amount is compared to what was spent to make the festival happen.

"Then there are the intangibles," he said. "One is the exposure" a festival provides for the community.

"It might help industry," he said. "I don't know what it does for the goat people, but surveys show we get a lot of repeat visitors."

Wiles provided such insight Thursday morning.

"The question is whether we can fund it at the same level," Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. said during the Tuesday night meeting.

Again, the mayor explained that commitments must be made for Goat Fest planning to be on schedule and without council action, the volunteers "don't want to sign a contract."

Stewart repeated Whitehead's point.

"We're all saying we'll have one, but we don't know how much we can spend," Stewart said.

"I don't know what's different from last year," Stewart said, forwarding a point made by McRady.

Woods' reply could be summed up in one word: Fuller.

"We don't have one person who's aware of all that's done," the mayor said.

As city manager, Fuller was the man volunteers looked to for direction. He also had authority to make things happen by directing city employees, even though many of them worked without much, if any, more pay.

While discussion revealed councilmen want the show to go on, they stopped short of saying how much money could be spent. That led the mayor to her conclusion that volunteers would not make promises they couldn't keep, so they probably wouldn't meet, at least not until June or July.

"I'm going to bet that they won't meet before you pass the budget," Woods said.