COUNCIL funds will continue to underwrite Warrnambool’s Fun4Kids Festival for at least the next three years after city councillors last night voted to spend up to $450,000 annually to cover shortfalls.
In its 14 years the nationally acclaimed attraction has never achieved a profit, but has generated millions in spin-off for the local economy and attracted thousands of newcomers to the region.
This year’s eight-day festival, which featured the Wiggles as its keynote act, posted a $467,827 cost for the council — an improvement on the $508,806 shortfall for 2012.
A special report tabled at last night’s council meeting revealed this year’s income was down $69,500 mainly due to a drop in ticket sales with less locals attending.
However, on the positive side the number-crunchers found the economic benefit of direct expenditure from the festival was $1.94 million, equivalent to a benefit of $4.87 for every $1 spent by the council.
“We have no new infrastructure to show after all these years of spending on the festival.”
“We are not here to make money — this festival has such high value for the community."
“I’m not happy to lock in the central location forever."
“We will spend $1.35 million in three years and have nothing to show for it."
Festival organisers have vowed to look at cost cutting for next year and to seek more corporate support. Councillors debated the issue for almost an hour with unity on one aspect, that the festival was important, but divided on the level of financial support and whether it should remain on the Civic Green where it all started.
There were also differing opinions on how beneficial the festival was for businesses with some councillors indicating Liebig Street traders gained very little.
Councillors Jacinta Ermacora, Kylie Gaston, Rob Askew and mayor Michael Neoh pointed to overall benefits for the economy, tourism, education and jobs.
“We are not here to make money — this festival has such high value for the community,” Cr Gaston said.
According to Cr Ermacora the festival generated “immeasurable promotion outside the city”.
Cr Askew said the event must be seen as an investment rather than a cost.
However, councillors Peter Hulin and Brian Kelson said it was time for a re-think on the business model and council expenditure.
“We will spend $1.35 million in three years and have nothing to show for it,” Cr Hulin said.
“If we were to use that money by developing Lake Pertobe we would have infrastructure that could be used year-round rather than just eight days.”
He spoke in favour of his previous suggestions of using the foreshore army barracks in conjunction with Lake Pertobe.
Cr Kelson said some retailers considered the Fun4Kids period as their worst week of the year.
“We have no new infrastructure to show after all these years of spending on the festival,” he said.
“The putting up and pulling down of the tent city on the green is a burden to ratepayers.”
Cr Peter Sycopoulis said as a former Liebig Street restaurant operator he knew how the festival week could be a tough trading period.
“I’m not happy to lock in the central location forever,” he said.
Cr Neoh said Lake Pertobe had a great reputation as a natural attraction and the festival catered to another market.
“Fifty per cent of participants surveyed said they would not have come to Warrnambool were it not for the festival,” he said.