Hammond releases finances on Festival of the Lakes

2014-06-18T18:51:00Z 2014-06-19T16:00:42Z Hammond releases finances on Festival of the LakesRob Earnshaw rob.earnshaw@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and the city released Wednesday a report outlining the financial status of the 2013 Festival of the Lakes.

The city appears to have broken even on the festival, according to the numbers provided by McDermott and the city.

The report summarizes revenues and expenses and is in partial response to a Times editorial and a failed attempt by three members of the City Council to subpoena department heads and the chief of police to a council meeting to discuss the finances, McDermott said.

*The statement released Wednesday said the city spent $682,909 on the 2013 festival and brought in that exact amount in revenue.

"This was never about hiding information," McDermott stated in the report. "We've always provided the information that was requested by any council member. I'm simply not going to put up with a certain council member wanting to grandstand for his political aims.

"It's not fair to those department heads to be subpoenaed to the council meeting, and I'm happy the majority of the council saw through this blatant political move."

McDermott was referring to two recent City Council meetings, where Councilman Homero “Chico” Hinojosa, D-6th, asked for a financial report on the last three years of the festival.

Not satisfied with a report presented to him by the city controller, Hinojosa made a motion last week to subpoena Parks and Recreation Administrator Pat Moore, Port Authority Director Milan Kruszynski and City Controller Heather Garay to discuss festival finances in a meeting before the council.

The motion failed 5-3, with Hinojosa, Councilmen Anthony Higgs and Robert Markovich voting yes and Councilwoman Janet Venecz, Council President Michael Opinker and Councilmen Dan Spitale, William Emerson and Jack Uylaki voting no. Councilman Mark Kalwinski was absent.

McDermott said the issue of Festival of the Lakes finances is about how much of the mayor's share of discretionary gaming dollars go toward the event and efforts to make is break even.

Last year, he contributed $182,878 in discretionary funds, he said.

"I think this year that number will go down even further," he said. "We're raising the parking rate, and we've already received more money this year from our sponsors than we have in the past, which will help reduce the amount of mayor's gaming that will need to be used."

The statement did not provide financial particulars.

McDermott said he's comfortable with the amount he has spent.

"If we can continue to bring great entertainment to Hammond as well as all the other great things the Festival of the Lakes provides for residents, kids and families, I think it's money well spent."

According to the report, the city earned more than $262,000 in sponsorships and nearly $86,000 in parking.

The cost for festival entertainment was more than $386,000. Insurance for the festival cost the city almost $50,000 and employee overtime more than $61,000.

The report said the city earned nearly $25,000 from its beer garden main area and more than $18,000 from the beer garden VIP section.

The report said more than 80,000 attend the Festival of the Lakes annually and the city expects to see that number increase. This year's festival is July 16-20.

The State Board of Accounts has called the city to task on Festival of the Lakes record-keeping.

A 2009 State Board of Accounts audit reiterated 2008 findings that beer and parking tickets at the festival were not retained for inspection and while reports were prepared, the numbers did not add up.

Then-City Controller Bob Lendi said a number of new practices were put into place to prevent similar issues.

On another financial front, the report also touts improvements in recent years on the quality of life in Hammond, including miles of new bike trails, bike bridges and a $35 million Regional Development Authority grant allowing Wolf Lake and the surrounding area to be turned from an industrial and seldom used area into green space filled with recreational activities.

"Bike trails don't make money for the city; neither do parades or fireworks displays," McDermott said. "Should we just stop doing things because they don't turn a profit? I think that would be a terrible mistake for our residents. Improving the quality of life for Hammond and bringing people into Hammond to see what we have to offer is an important function of city government."

The report also states the city's four public pools are perennial financial losses, with more than $200,000 being spent per year on chemicals, labor, operation and maintenance.

"We know we lose money on the pools, but they are a great place for kids to be in the summer — in a safe, lifeguarded environment," McDermott said. "If this is just about making money then we just charge our residents over $100 for an annual pool pass. I'm not about to do that. Government isn't always about making money."

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version. The correct amount was $682,909.

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