The electrical needs of the Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival sparked considerable discussion Monday, June 17, and ended with Council President Doug Joseph casting a tie-breaking vote to send legislation to the full council that would authorize the city to appropriate money for the expense.
It would also require the Tomato Festival to reimburse the funds.
The full council, meeting as the community development committee, discussed appropriating $9,750 for electrical needs for this year's festival as an "expenditure subject to reimbursement."
Greta Stake, a Tomato Festival committee member and executive chairman of the Reynoldsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said the festival's net proceeds would not support reimbursement.
"This is not what we were told," she said. "We wound up with $634 left last year. If you loan us $9,700, how do we pay it back? That is not possible."
Joe Brown, city parks director, said he wants to improve the electrical facilities in Huber Park "to meet the needs of not just the Tomato Festival, but any and all festivals and special events."
He said the cost to install a permanent electrical distribution center at Huber is still to be determined, but "will generally pay for itself year after year once it's installed, nullifying the need for generators and a power source."
Brown said once the electrical system is in place before next year's festival -- if city leaders agree and appropriate funds for it -- the Tomato Festival committee would not have electrical expenses, so could reimburse the city for the $9,750.
City Auditor Richard Harris said Reynoldsburg cannot "loan" money to a private committee.
"Under the (Ohio) Revised Code, we don't enter into agreements to loan people money," he said. "We can make expenditures subject to reimbursement, but it is not a loan."
Councilman Scott Barrett pointed out the city will receive about $100,000 from an electrical aggregation agreement, so could use some of those funds to pay the expense outright.
Councilman Barth Cotner suggested the city instead give the $9,750 to the Tomato Festival and become a partner for the event.
"I would prefer we use the aggregate dollars as community dollars for this festival," he said.
Mayor Brad McCloud agreed with Cotner.
"The Tomato Festival is a signature event for the city," he said. "Mr. Cotner's statement is a bold one, but I hope you will support it."
Councilman Mel Clemens disagreed.
"If we don't structure this expense for reimbursement, then we are giving public tax dollars to a private organization," he said. "The aggregate dollars are going into our coffer, so they are still public funds."
Councilwoman Monica DeBrock said she also had a problem with giving public dollars to a private organization.
"We could be opening ourselves to other private organizations asking for funds," she said.
Council members Cotner, Barrett and Cornelius McGrady III voted against preparing an ordinance that would require reimbursement of the funds. Clemens, DeBrock and Chris Long voted for it.
With Councilwoman Leslie Kelly absent, that left council President Doug Joseph to break the tie with a vote to send the ordinance to the full council for a first reading at the June 24 meeting.
That meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. at Reynoldsburg City Hall, 7232 E. Main St.