Confusion Marks Kite Fest Funding

OCEAN CITY – The City Council made a compromise to fix a mistake that actually was not made on Monday, and now the ball is back in the city’s court to reverse that compromise.

Jay Knerr, owner of the Kite Loft in Ocean City, came before the council to get the Kite Loft’s annual Maryland International Kite Exposition, scheduled for April 24-26, approved, pleading with the council to have his funding restored after reading in a Salisbury newspaper that the $7,000 in seed money that he was slated to receive was chopped in last fall’s budget cuts.

However, upon further review by both City Manager Dennis Dare and Mayor Rick Meehan, it was discovered that the $7,000 earmarked for the kite exposition was not cut for this year, but it has been cut for next year, so Knerr actually ended up pleading for funding that hadn’t been taken away yet.

“The funding wasn’t cut for this year, so there is still $7,000 in the budget that is earmarked for the kite exposition,” said Dare. “When I asked staff in October to bring me a list of possible items to cut from the budget, this event was one that was brought to me by the Recreation and Parks Department, but I didn’t present it to council as part of the cuts, because I thought to cut it for this year would be unfair.”

As per the council agenda for this week, Susan Petito of the Recreation and Parks Department included a memo outlining the money that has been allotted to the event in the past 10 years (totaling $60,200). It was also noted that the $7,000 in funding was cut for this year.

Therefore, in addition to Knerr asking for $900 worth of “in-kind” services from the town, such as snow poles, tables and chairs, Knerr found himself trying to explain to the council that he’d already spent the money that he essentially banked on getting for his event.

“I’ve made financial commitments for the money, because up until the other day, I was under the impression that we were going to get it,” said Knerr. “I know you guys have a huge task of having to cut things from the budget, and that’s just good business, and it makes perfect sense, but for this year, because it is so late, if you could help me in any way, I would greatly appreciate it.”

The somewhat awkward exchange between council and Knerr ran the gamut between trying to come up with a compromise for a proven and beloved town event, but also taking some sort of a hard line on the concerning budget.

“This budget that Dennis [Dare] is trying to squeeze for us has really caused us a lot of problems,” said Councilman Jim Hall, “but, the seed money is supposed to get the plants growing until it can stand on its own, and this tree has grown, so maybe the money needs to stop.”

Meehan cautioned the council about not taking away amenities that visitors of Ocean City enjoy in their efforts to be fiscally responsible.

“This event is good for Ocean City and is part of the value of the experience that people receive when they come to town, so I think we need to be careful here,” said Meehan, “If we went out there and tried to put this on ourselves, it would cost us an awful lot more money than what we are talking about.”

Seemingly upon the mayor’s recommendation, the council amended a motion to approve the event without any seed money to one that would match Knerr’s contribution dollar for dollar up to $3,500.

“I think we need a compromise with this, if he puts in $3,500, we put in $3,500, to make the event work and for him to realize that this is the way we are tailoring this down and that they’ll be on their own next year,” said Meehan.

The council split the vote 4-3, with Joe Hall, Jim Hall and Margaret Pillas opposed to the monetary dollar for dollar compromise.

As the week went on, Knerr said he was contacted by the mayor personally and indicated that the funding was in fact still there, but in order for Knerr to get all of the funding, the council would have to either undo their decision or vote again on yet another amended motion.

“It was certainly a relief, and from what I understand, I believe that council will undo their decision, but we are at a ‘wait and see’ point right now,” said Knerr.

Knerr said the $7,000 is used to cover the travel, food and lodging expenses of the professional kite flyers that are scheduled to perform during the three-day event.

Still, Council President Joe Mitrecic said that he is unsure whether the council will undo their vote or stick to the compromise.

“I have no idea what they will do, because we approved the event and I think in these times, we came up with a very fair compromise,” said Mitrecic, “but if someone on the council wants to revisit the issue, I will put it on the agenda, but since it was a 4-3 vote, I don’t know if you’ll see it reversed.”

Mitrecic called the kite exposition “one of many important events for the town” and added that money given to events as “seed” money oftentimes comes back to the town and the taxpayers “10 or 20 fold” by way of economic impact and numbers of visitors.

Jim Hall said that the lack of communication between the two parties should be a lesson learned for the future.

“In hindsight, in preparing for this budget year, we should have sent everyone a letter that we gave even as much as a penny to that says it’s going to be a lean couple of years, and don’t come with your hand out because we can’t help you”, said Hall. “The problem is that everyone wants seed money and that’s where we struggle.”