Chronicle Misses the Mark with Corn Fest Parking Fees

In “Our View: Corn Fest fee to park is fair,” the Chronicle today makes the case for users of Corn Fest to help pay for it.

The city provides, among other things, a location for the festival and police and emergency personnel in case something goes wrong. The emergency personnel are paid out of their departments’ budgets, which tough financial times have stretched as far as they will go.

The question: Who should pay for those costs? The people who attend the festival or every taxpayer in the city, whether they attend or not?

Of course it would be fair, if it were happening the way they say. But it’s not.

Readers of DeKalb County Online and this blog already know that the $5 parking fee will not go toward providing first responders at the festival. FAA approval of the event is contingent upon the city’s collecting fair market value for Corn Fest’s use of the airport, in this case $30,000 – $50,000, to go straight into the Airport Fund. It cannot be used for other city operations. We are back to Square One on covering these costs.

The above information comes from e-mails provided by the city, at least one of which was supposedly prompted by a Chronicle inquiry. It is baffling that the newspaper somehow failed to get the memo.

Besides getting the basic facts wrong, the Chronicle’s stance fails to take into account how this might affect Corn Fest itself.

In 2007, Corn Fest ran a surplus of $11,000 and at the end of the year was sitting on assets of nearly $90,700. If memory serves (earlier IRS Forms 990 no longer being available for free at GuideStar) 2007 was not as prosperous for CF as 2006, but it was the move to the airport that really hurt them. Due to expenses jumping by more than $22,000 the first airport year to $178,500 and an additional $6,000 the second, CF ran deficits in both 2008 and 2009 — even a nice bump in revenues brought by Lady Antebellum could not quite overtake the increased expenses — and end-of-year reserves were drained to $72,100.

Did Corn Fest begin to experience a recovery in 2010? The form 990 for that year is not yet available online, so maybe someone should ask. Could be Corn Fest at the airport is doomed or at the least in a precarious position, and that parking fees will prove to be a nail in its coffin.

Meanwhile, if you are keeping score, the city on Monday added yet another layer of direct involvement in Corn Fest by deciding to supervise the parking operation. It will add to the costs of covering Corn Fest, with city taxpayers still on the hook for the bill.