3 min

Expect another huge Pride deficit

Pride organizers crunch numbers - but won't talk about it

The Pride Committee of Ottawa has once again found itself treading water in the deep end of the deficit pool.

After making significant strides in reducing past debt, Pride 2004’s lower attendance and revenue shortfalls – coupled with an expanded events program – has led to another overwhelming deficit for festival organizers to tackle.

And although Pride Committee members have so far refused to release any specific fiscal information related to this year’s festival, board president Janet Vachon confirmed that the numbers are very disappointing after last year’s gains.

“It’s not a nice number,” Vachon says of the committee’s projected deficit.

In addition to financial difficulties, the Pride Committee has also suffered recent board resign-ations. In late July, Second Vice-Chair Mary-Lou Bruce, Secretary Jerry Martinovic and First Vice-Chair Ric Watson – the committee’s longest serving member – resigned their posts.

Watson, however, has tentatively rejoined the board, along with Pride’s former executive director, Robin Duetta, whose term expired Aug 1. Vachon says that while Duetta’s future role with the festival is being determined, he will serve on the board as past president.

This year’s significant shortfall and membership instability is an especially bitter pill to swallow after it appeared that the Pride Committee had finally found fiscal responsibility.

When the current committee took over festival operations in April 2003, they inherited a debt of $50,000 left over from Pride 2002. But after negotiating and working their way through arrangements with creditors to execute Pride 2003 – in addition to reducing the festival’s overall budget by more than $100,000 – the committee was left with only a $16,000 shortfall before this year’s festival began.

As well, as a show of faith in the current committee’s commitment to solidifying its financial future, city council granted Pride a $50,000 loan guarantee in April.

After meeting with bank officials last week, Vachon says the loan guarantee will not be called “if we make the [required] deposits by the end of the month.”

She adds that committee members are confident they can meet the deposit schedule.

The board also recently met with city councillor Diane Holmes, who represents Somerset Ward, to discuss ways the city might be able to help the festival secure long-term financial stability.

According to Holmes, the city must find ways to not only improve Pride’s long-term financial outlook, but that of all Ottawa festivals – many of which often find themselves running in the red.

“I guess we, as a city, need to get our festivals on a stable financial footing. And that would mean that we need a more comprehensive policy regarding festivals,” she says.

Holmes adds that any part of developing a city-wide festival policy would include taking a hard look at how council provides financial assistance to festivals.

Although Pride Ottawa 2004 did not receive any funding from the city, it was required to pay fees for festival-related services the city provides for its events.

“It’s pretty ironic that we give grants to festivals, and then we take all that money back through policing costs, costs for barricades, garbage pick-up and all those services,” Holmes explains. “So we need to look at that as well.”

In addition, she says council should also explore the possibility of drawing Ottawa festivals “under the umbrella” of the city’s insurance program, which would allow the organizations to pay significantly reduced rates.

Earlier this year, Pride Committee members had thought that the city’s loan guarantee would allow them to participate in the insurance program, but the festival failed to qualify.

If approved, board members estimate that their insurance costs would drop from the $24,000 budgeted this year to an annual premium of about $250.

But Holmes says Pride must first be considered a “city-sponsored event” before it can qualify for the city’s insurance program.

“They have to be seen to be in partnership with the city, so it’s seen as a city-sponsored event and integral to the city,” Holmes says. “So that’s one thing that I am certainly interested in looking into.”

In the meantime, committee members have begun to pursue other ways of generating additional revenue.

“We’re working hard to collect outstanding money owed to us, and with that money we’re paying back our creditors,” Vachon says. “But, they [the creditors] have all been informed of our situation.”

Vachon added that the committee also hopes to hold a fundraiser sometime this fall to help the festival offset a portion of the shortfall. Pride will also hold its annual general meeting this fall.

“You know, these are ups and downs that festivals go through,” Holmes says of Pride’s current financial and personnel problems. “But I think that it would really be helpful if the city could get its head around. We need to really investigate how we fund festivals, and try to get them on a more stable footing.”