Head-shaking, raised voices from a couple members around the table—and even from the crowd—and lots of differing financials.

Yes, the presentation on the Stars and Thunder financials lived up to the entertainment hype, and then some. But at the same time, many still have differing views on how much this festival will cost taxpayers in the end.

Timmins Mayor Steve Black was able to present his wrap-up of the festival Tuesday night—the same presentation released publicly last week that created some differing views before anyone even entered the chambers.

CLICK HERE for our original story, noting a $30,000 deficit—or $1.35 per household—for residents to make up.

CLICK HERE for our follow up with Councillor Rick Dubeau, who made note that there were items included in the presentation that shouldn’t be there, noting the deficit is more around $541,000—or $24.30 a household.

Now there’s a new number that’s been brought to the public forum. $5,996,428.98—the total debits from the Stars and Thunder account.

Those numbers were given by Treasurer Jim Howie to Councillor Joe Campbell.

Campbell showed the numbers to local media directly after the meeting. The ledger indicates a deficit of $565,195.13.

Using our math equation from last week, that would mean a cost of $25.39 per household when all is set and done.

But it isn’t set and done…not yet at least.

Between Black’s explanation of his math, arguments, kudos, clarifications and the like, there were many layers to this discussion.

We’ll start with Black’s presentation (which you can follow by clicking HERE).

Black, of note, mentions that the Islamic State group issued a threat to Canada and any large scale celebrations the week of Stars and Thunder.

He says security did a great job, noting the $70,000 increase to security detail to make sure the event was safe for all festival goers.

Black also acknowledges there are things that have not been accounted for, like banked time by staff, the lost transit revenue and the cost of bar services.

In terms of direct revenues, the Mayor states they did only get $3,874,000. But he adds he included the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund grant to do remediation work at Hollinger Park because they received the money due to hosting the festival.

While he made his arguments known during the meeting, he talked at length about it after the meeting with local media.

“We have to do soil remediation (at Hollinger Park),” he said, “It’s been out there for almost a year now that we have to do some remedial work at the park, and that the grandstands would need work if we want to keep them…as well as park electrical work.”

He says some of that work was done before the festival, such as electrical work and the IT network.

“The whole grant category is ‘economic development infrastructure,'” Black adds, “The whole application for the grant was based on the economic development and the economic benefit to Timmins to be able to host Stars and Thunder-type events and using the ticket sales of that event.”

The Mayor adds the grant actually had a $100,000 limit, but it was appealed and accepted by the NOHFC to exceed that amount based on the size and nature of the festival.

“I agree that it’s not direct revenue for the festival, but that $370-thousand dollars was going to come out of the taxpayers pockets if we did not apply for a grant using the festival and the benefit (to) the community that the festival has to access that type of grant,” he said.

“We’re not going to get that for the baseball that’s hosted at the park,” Black continued, “There’s no economic development (or) economic benefit to having baseball at Hollinger Park that would qualify for that size of a grant from the province. You can throw in Sk8te Hollinger, you can throw in the playgrounds and stuff, that does not meet the requirements for an economic development grant under that program.”

He concludes the point by saying tonight’s presentation was “to show taxpayers what the net impact is on their pocket,” not about how many hours staff allocated leading up to the festival.

Of course, the presentation left some unhappy citizens in the crowd leaving council chambers, with comments including “bull crap.”

And even a comment during the meeting by Black drew the ire of the crowd when he pointed out how people pay for services they don’t use, such as hockey rinks and transit.

“CREATIVE ACCOUNTING”
Once Black was done his presentation, the floor was open for comments from city councillors.

And that’s when Campbell presented his numbers. He notes there’s a sense of “euphoria” in the community for what the festival has done for the city, but there’s also realities that need to be discussed.

The retired accountant read the $5.996-million dollar figure, which drew collective gasps from the crowd gathered. Campbell calls Black’s numbers “creative accounting.”

The councillor says the shortfall will fall anywhere between $550-$600 thousand dollars.

The whole point of Campbell’s comments, he says, is to solidify his point of making sure if Stars and Thunder 2018 is a go, that they make a budget that doesn’t subsidize local taxpayers.

“Let’s get input from everybody,” he said after the meeting, “Where can it improve, how can we verify and ensure that we at least have a good chance of breaking even or making some money and that’s all I was trying to (point out) tonight.”

Campbell adds he thought the event was great for the city, and commends the work that was done. But he notes they have to do it right the next time around.

“I realize what Steve’s doing, and I realize a bit of the principles that some of this money will be spent next year, so that you don’t have to spend next year,” Campbell told local media, “But the reality is that is not this year’s cost. You can’t accrue revenue this side, when you still have that work to do. You can’t say I got $390-thousand dollars for remediation on the grandstand, you haven’t done the work.”

Councillor Rick Dubeau got to chime in after some positive comments from around the table.

“(The festival)’s not a success,” he said, “We lost half a million dollars.”

Dubeau also made use of the term “creative accounting,” and as he did during his chat with Rogers Media last week, disputed the inclusion of the NOHFC grant in Black’s presentation.

“Was the work done before Stars and Thunder? No it was not. So therefore, it was not conditional. It’s plain and simple.”

He adds if that were the case, they’d have to take the rest of the remediation costs and add it into the Stars and Thunder budget. Dubeau says they won’t do that, because it’s not reasonable.

“It does not make any sense.”

Dubeau questions the whole point of Black making a financial presentation when the city has a Treasurer, especially when they have two completely different number totals.

He goes on to detail the future loss in productivity for staff that built up time off for putting in extra work for the festival between October and June.

“What about the jobs that didn’t get done by our staff because they were working on Stars and Thunder that didn’t get accounted for,” he continued, “That is a glaring example of the lack of transparency of this whole thing.”

After the meeting, Dubeau says the Mayor didn’t gamble with $3.5-million dollars of taxpayer dollars. He gambled with nearly $6-million.

“And the Mayor admitted tonight, he had no idea how to plan an eight-day festival,” Dubeau told local media, “So why did he propose it? Why didn’t you wait for a year to plan this? This is general accepted business practices, is that you have a business plan in place beforehand. The Mayor admitted tonight that he didn’t know how to plan an eight-day festival, but yet he proposed it.”

“And obviously, the numbers show that he was correct.”

IT DOESN’T MATTER…
It wasn’t all criticism from around the council table.

Councillor Pat Bamford says he doesn’t see why they shouldn’t note the NOHFC grant as a benefit from the festival.

He says after the event, many people who were critical of it came up to him with apologies. Bamford notes he’s been in Timmins since 1976, and while there have been many events in that time, nothing generated as much community pride as this festival.

Bamford adds he understands the caution that needs to be taken, but they need to be positive about this.

“It was a lot of fun, people had a great time,” he said.

(Campbell retorted by saying he’s not being negative, just realistic as the public has a right to know the true cost.)

Veteran councillor Mike Doody had his chance to talk. And he passionately gave his thanks to Black for his idea, an idea the Mayor was “on the hot seat” for.

“How can anyone blame him for coming here tonight and telling us his side of the story, why it was done,” Doody adds, his voice rising slightly, “No matter what it cost us, people from Timmins, people from the region, said ‘Boy did Timmins do a great job.'”

Doody got in a subtle jab with the lack of a Frank Sinatra-type of performer, which drew some collective laughs around the room.

“The Mayor took a gamble,” he said, admitting he didn’t disagree with Councillors Campbell and Dubeau. However, Doody said people stepped up, from the community, to city staff and there were many benefits and the people helping out had fun.

Doody says we learned “a great deal,” but somewhere in all of it, the Mayor deserves a bit of praise too.

Echoing his sentiments was Councillor Veronica Farrell.

She says she was very happy with the report brought by the Mayor, and ended by literally applauding him.

MORE TO COME
The next question on everyone’s mind is: Will there be a Stars and Thunder 2018?

Mayor Black says there are deadlines to meet, so they need to discuss the matter during the next meeting on August 22nd.

One of those things, he says, is an extension agreement with Front Gate Tickets that has to be enacted by September. Another is a couple of “top tier” francophone acts for Saint Jean Baptiste Day 2018 that are on hold for Timmins until the end of the month.

Looking ahead, Black says there are three viable options for council to consider:

  • hold the eight day festival like 2017
  • shorten the festival to 5-6 days and split it up (have a couple days surrounding Saint Jean Baptiste Day, take a couple days off and then resume festivities leading to Canada Day)
  • hold a four-day event

For now, the numbers presented are the numbers presented. The Mayor notes a total cost of $1.35 per household while others dispute that claim.

Treasurer Howie adds the numbers aren’t really finalized at this point, offering a time line of “at least a month.”

Until then, CLICK HERE to view Tuesday’s meeting, under Item 3H.

Filed under: Local News, stars-and-thunder