At issue, at least for selectboard members, was the intended use of the money and the timing of the request – less than a month after the September event, and about six months after the request for the 2013 event. “This is the first time we’ve seen an application for the same event within two or three weeks of the last event,” said board member Vicki Capitani. “Is this money going to pay off this year’s expenses?”
Board members noted, and according to Gilpin’s funding application, that the event was $43,000 in debt at the end of the festival.
Gilpin told board members that he would indeed be using the portion of their funding immediately available (75% under the board’s guidelines, or $15,000) to pay outstanding bills for the 2013 event. Gilpin explained that the event was a “year- round business” and that any sponsorship money “all goes into the same account, it’s a matter of timing.”
In his application, Gilpin said two factors caused the loss: lower than anticipated attendance by locals, and a lower than expected number of VIP passes sold under the festival’s partnership deal with the Hermitage Club. According to his 2014 application, the festival spent more than $20,000 in marketing to local residents. “Barely 75 locals turned out to ITVFest, and most of those only bought a $29 day pass ... generating about $3,000 in total ticket sales.” Gilpin said that the 2013 budget assumed the sale of 50 to 75 VIP passes would be sold to Hermitage Club members. Only 10 showed up, a $30,000 shortfall.
Selectboard chair Randy Terk said he was concerned that the economic development grant for the 2014 event would be spent on expenses incurred for the 2013 festival. “It should be spent on the 2014 event,” he said. “What certainty is there that there will even be a 2014 event? I see no assurances. Will there then be sufficient revenues to support the event next year? The last thing I want to see is that we fund (the 2014 festival) and then find that it can’t happen next year.”
Gilpin said that it was important to receive the funding now, not only to pay current bills, but to be able to interest other sponsors. “It will be difficult to be able to go to any of my sponsors, and the vendors who are looking for their final checks, if the town is hesitating.”
Throughout the discussion, board members expressed their support for the event, and for funding the event with public money.
Gilpin said he was coming to the town first because they were the “greatest recipient of ROI,” or return on investment. According to economic development director Ken Black, and Gilpin’s application, the town would receive $3,300 in local option taxes from a total $330,000 in rooms, meals, and alcohol revenue generated by the 2013 festival. Gilpin referred to the total revenue figure.
The number is based on the state department of tourism’s calculated average of $139.41 spent per person, per night stayed, and the number of out-of-town visitors for the festival. Gilpin said 600 of the 700 visitors were from out of town, and stayed four nights.
But Gilpin said that, if the town were to hesitate and withhold funding until sometime next year, it could stunt the growth of the festival. “The worst thing that could happen would be to press the pause button,” he said. “That would eliminate six months of marketing, and it would compress the actual production into a smaller time frame. We’ll be sitting in June with 200 more submissions, having sold 200 more tickets, and thinking about how much bigger this event could have been if we were in it from the start. If we want this to be everything we want it to be, we have to get the team back into the office. Any hesitation would start to snowball in the wrong direction. This is the first time a major international event has come into Dover and made Dover its home in terms of office space. This is an event that wants to be here, wants to anchor itself here.”
“If this gets funded, do you have letters of commitment from other folks?” asked Terk. “I don’t want to be the only sponsor and have no event.”
Gilpin said he could supply letters, if necessary. But he said initial discussions with sponsors were already positive – not only were the sponsors of the 2013 event in for the same amount or more, but others have expressed interest. The response from everyone involved in the festival, he said, was extremely positive. “The tough part for me is that there’s no way for me to impress upon you the experience of the event for the people who were there. If you experienced it, you would have no hesitation in understanding that you won’t be the only sponsor.”
Former economic development assistant Linda Anelli urged the board to approve the funding, telling them to “trust your gut.” She said she had become a “passionate follower of this young man,” referring to Gilpin, and said if the town approves the expenditure, the worst thing that could happen would be for the board to “have egg on your face for throwing $20,000 down the tubes,” but she was confident that wouldn’t happen. “I think you will be the heroes of this town for having the courage to trust your gut when everything’s telling you not to.”
Capitani said she would have preferred to see an amended 2013 application for additional funding, followed by a “clean” 2014 application for funding to be spent specifically on 2014 expenses. “So everything is up front,” she said.
Gilpin protested that nothing in the application wasn’t “up front.”
Black called it a matter of “semantics,” but Capitani said it would have been a chance to get more economic development funding.
Throughout the discussion, Terk said he expected to see the financial data, which was included in a narrative and handwritten form, in a spreadsheet with year-to-year and estimated vs. actual comparisons. When finally pressed, Gilpin said he had provided the information asked by the economic development director.
“So the application was never updated for the spreadsheet we wanted?” Terk asked Black.
“That’s true,” said Black.
Board member Linda Holland made a motion to approve the $20,000 grant. After a long pause, Capitani seconded the motion. “This really changes the game for a lot of (applications). You lost money this year, and you’re asking for money now so you can pay off this year and go on. I’m concerned that you can’t pay your bills and you’re rushing to us for money with a drop-dead date. I don’t like getting backed into a corner, saying ‘pay me now or it’s done.’ That bothers me. We all support (the festival) but we hate getting pushed into a corner.”
Gilpin told board members that the request and the information in it were the result of consultation with Black, the town’s economic development director. He said he had put his own personal savings into covering the festival debt before asking the town for funding. “I’m the only one here liable to anyone,” he said. “The town, the business owners, they have no skin in this game. I have no hesitation reworking this request and coming back to discuss it again.”
Gilpin appeared to suggest a compromise, a commitment of economic development funding that wouldn’t “hurt the momentum.” But board members eventually approved the motion to grant the original $20,000 request.
In other matters, Dover resident Chris Helmstetter complained that it took too long to receive emergency medical services in town, and suggested that Dover, “being one of the rich towns, giving money right and left, should have its own ambulance service.”
Terk, noting he is an EMT and a 13-year veteran of Deerfield Valley Rescue and a member of the East Dover Rescue squad, said that the problem was getting volunteers. “Don’t sit and bitch, volunteer,” he told Helmstetter. “We have an ambulance service that serves five communities, they could use volunteers, people to step up and become EMTs.”
Helmstetter said he thought the town could hire a professional ambulance service for about $100,000.
“An ambulance costs about $150,000, including all the equipment that’s necessary – that’s for one ambulance,” Terk said. “Then you have all the staffing. It would be great if we could have quicker response times, but it’s a lot more involved than just starting an ambulance service.”
Terk said a private, for-profit ambulance service would need to have a minimum number of calls per year to be profitable, more calls than are generated in Dover annually. But Terk urged Helmstetter to pursue the matter and present a plan to voters. “I think the town would be willing to support something like that if you put together a proposal, bring it to us, and we’ll put it before Town Meeting voters. Get it started.”
Planning commission chair Nicholas Wallaert told board members that Dover’s town plan had expired while the commission was working on revisions. As a result, he said, the town may not be eligible for certain state funding until a plan can be approved, and Act 250 proceedings could be affected. “We had the impression that as long as we were not finished (revising the town plan) we could just go on and the selectboard could pass a motion to readopt (the plan). To cut a long story short, because it expired, we have to go through the process of sending the town plan around to surrounding towns. After 30 days, we can have a hearing, and in another 30 days the selectboard can have another hearing.” After the hearings, the selectboard would be able to adopt the town plan.
Wallaert estimated that the town could have an approved plan in place by December 18. He apologized for the commission’s oversight. “We should have pressed the panic button much earlier,” he said, “and as a consequence, we have no town plan. “