York City's public works director is asking for the public's help the old-fashioned way.
In a letter to the editor submitted Tuesday to The York Dispatch, Jim Gross suggests that special events like the annual New Year's Eve celebration could have a future if the fundraising is taken over by nonprofit organizations.
Gross estimates in the letter that events traditionally funded by the city require between $200,000 and $250,000 per year - "not a huge amount of money when added to the aggregate funds these groups already raise."
Donor dollars are scarce, Gross wrote.
"By having one centralized organization do the fundraising, the event organizers are no longer competing against each other for the same donors," Gross wrote. "Efforts can then be more focused on the actual running of the events with less stress and strain on constantly trying to raise funds. Perhaps the long-term goal could be to establish a permanent endowment for all special events."
For the first time in many years, the white rose won't drop in York City at midnight Dec. 31 if no one steps forward to pay for the New Year's Eve event. Last year, city officials approved a 2012 budget that cut the tradition because the celebration, which typically costs about $35,000 to put on, had become a drain on the cash-strapped city's finances.
Now, with Dec. 31 just a month away, the reality of that decision has thrust the issue into the spotlight.
Gross said last week that he's gotten inquires from potential donors, but, "Nobody's written a check yet."
Other events at risk of cancellation include YorkFest, Olde York Street Fair and Bike Night. Light Up Night, the city's annual lighting of its downtown Christmas tree, will happen this year on Friday, Dec. 7 thanks to a $2,500 donation from Bob Kinsley of Kinsley Construction.
In his letter to the editor, Gross specifically mentions the Cultural Alliance or United Way as groups that might be able to take over special-event fundraising for the city.
That came as news Tuesday to the leaders of the two organizations.
"I don't like to say 'no' to anything," said United Way Executive Director Bob Woods.
But, Woods said, special-event fundraising is not a great fit for the group's mission "to improve people's lives by building a strong community through cultivating financial generosity, volunteerism and civic engagement."
Woods said he's never been approached by city officials about their dilemma. He suggested that the city "bring some people around the table and talk about what might be a good approach for dealing with the issue."
Joanne Riley, president of The Cultural Alliance of York County, said fundraising for special events is also beyond the organization's mission of supporting York County's creative community.
"We fund our partner agencies," Riley said. "If they want to plan events, that's wonderful."- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full text of the letter to the editor submitted Tuesday by Jim Gross, York City's public works director, follows.
Special events are a wonderful attraction and amenity to a community's quality of life. YorkFest, Olde York Street Fair, Bike Night, Light Up Night and the New Years Eve's festivities are among the few cherished community events hosted in the City of York. Unfortunately, special events generally do not make money. In most cases, as in the City of York, we rely solely on fundraising and sponsorships to pay for our special events. We've done a pretty good job too. Annually, city staff and community volunteers dedicate time and resources to raise the money necessary to cover the cost so all of these events may be offered free to the community. The challenge is as less sponsorship funding is available; communities must make difficult decisions to prioritize events. We could make the decision to subsidize our events using tax revenue but have long resisted that temptation. This situation is not unique to York.
The lack of funding and subsequent cancellation of the New Years Eve event in the City of York has caused considerable concern to many residents and the media. This year the Halloween Parade, operated successfully for the past several years by the YWCA, also faced funding problems and is now in jeopardy. I am certain Mary Yeaple, St. Patrick's Day Parade organizer would tell a similar tale.
I truly believe there is a systemic problem with the way we fund our special events in the City of York. Events that everyone seems to want to see continue. Each organization from the City to organizers of the Saint Patrick's Day and Halloween Parades must compete for scarce dollars to fund our events. We also must compete for scarce dollars from many of the same donors for the funds. Would it make more sense for one organization to take on the fund raising role for all special events? Could the Cultural Alliance or the United Way add York's special events to their existing fund raising? The total amount that would need to be raised is, to my best estimate, between $200,000 and $250,000, not a huge amount of money when added to the aggregate funds theses groups already raise. By having one centralized organization do the fundraising, the event organizers are no longer competing against each other for the same donors. Efforts can then be more focused on the actual running of the events with less stress and strain on constantly trying to raise funds. Perhaps the long term goal could be to establish a permanent endowment for all special events.
If we want community events to continue, which apparently many do, then we must seriously look at more permanent ways to provide the funds needed to operate them. The City of York cannot do this on our own. We need the help of other organizations and the bold thinking of their Board members to find a way to provide assistance. The future of many of our events is at stake. I truly believe that this issue of permanent funding for the events can be solved and would ask the York community to give it careful thought.
James E. Gross
Director of Public Works
City of York