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Penn commissioners could cut fall festival funding by half

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A $5,000 cut in Penn Township's contribution to the fall festival committee would make the volunteer organizers' fundraising tasks more challenging but wouldn't cripple the festival, committee co-chairman Mike Ginsburg said.

Township commissioners are considering a 2014 budget proposal that would halve their traditional $10,000 contribution to the festival to $5,000. Commissioners are relying on an estimated $1.8-million surplus in the general fund to balance the spending plan because they expect to spend nearly $400,000 more than the township will collect in taxes and other revenue next year.

Saying he understands the need for commissioners to keep the property-tax rate down, Ginsburg, a former commissioner, described the funding decrease as an opportunity for committee organizers to find new ways to raise private funds.

“The commissioners have a responsibility to Joe Q. Taxpayer to do the most they can with the money they have, and I'm glad they didn't raise taxes,” Ginsburg said.

Commissioners closely scrutinized the festival expenses this fall because they estimate the township pays road workers, police officers and other staffers $20,000 for festival-related work, Commissioner Jeff Shula said.

In particular, employees in the public-works department put in about 500 staff hours to prepare the festival grounds at Penn Township Municipal Park and other activities related to the fair, Shula said.

“I'd rather spend the money toward something everyone can use than just a few people who come out,” he said.

Commissioners Ed Sullivan and Chuck Horvat said they wanted to keep the contribution at $10,000.

Though a volunteer committee organizes the festival, which stems back to the township's 150th anniversary in 2005, it essentially is a township-run event, Sullivan said.

“I still consider the fall festival as a Penn Township community event,” he said. “This isn't something run by just a group of people.”

Last week, commissioners briefly debated setting a cap on the amount of hours that public works could devote to the festival, but they decided not to implement any changes.

The problem, officials noted, was whether enough volunteers would be available to pick up the slack to prepare for the festival if township employees did less work.

The township also would be liable for any issues related to the volunteers' efforts, manager Bruce Light said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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