Increase in cost for Ladybug Festival questioned by council

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DMI has requested $55,000 from the City of Milford to help offset costs for the Ladybug Festival

At a recent council meeting, Downtown Milford, Inc. (DMI) requested $55,000 from Milford City Council to cover the cost of the Ladybug Festival planned for September 2023. The request was $15,000 higher than requested for 2022 due to an increase in costs from Gable Entertainment.

“They’re requesting two payouts one on July 1 for $25,000 and the second one on August 15,” City Manager Mark Whitfield said. “We have actually budgeted $30,000 as per their request last year, in the fiscal year 2023 budget that is available right now. And then we could give them $25,000 In fiscal year 24 for their August 15 request.”

Councilman Jason James expressed concern that this request was ahead of the normal budget cycle, but even if council did approve the $25,000 in August, that would leave DMI with just $5,000 for 2024. His concern was that the organization was pulling funds too far ahead. Whitfield explained that it would only leave DMI with $5,000 if council approved the $30,000 in the upcoming budget hearings.

“Well, I tried to understand the considerable difference. But remember, last week when we had the breakdown of the five year plan, I think is pretty aggressive. We don’t know if this festival from last five years, that it’s become self supporting, and when we originally proved the $30,000 it was a $15,000 request and we as a council decided to do $30,000,” Councilman Todd Culotta said. “It was more on what I would call a gift, not aid and assumed funding. We did that and of course you know what happened and we’ll get pushed off ,but this is a pretty aggressive ask. That doesn’t take anything away from the value of the festival and what it brings to Milford and the enjoyment of it. I still I think that’s something we need to think of because this is taxpayer money at the end of the day. This is nice to have, but I think we have to consider that.”

Councilman Culotta was referring to a previous meeting where James Rabe, President of DMI, provided an annual report to council which included a funding request for the upcoming year. In addition to the additional funding for the Ladybug Festival, DMI requested an increase in funding for operating costs of $60,500, up from $47,500 in 2022-23. The additional funds would be used to hire an assistant for the Executive Director and to cover added rent costs since DMI moved from a city-owned building a few years ago.

“I know it’s taxpayers money. Other things we do for cultural events are also taxpayers money, what’s the benefit to the city, giving something nice for the people of the city, not just the bedroom? But if we just approve $30,000 next year to get the $25,000 to make up the $55,000, they are left with $5,000,” Councilman Dan Marabello said. “We want to continue that venue to be here and not in Smyrna. I’ve talked to people downtown they have other people lined up if we don’t do it and once we lose it’s gone. And this year should be busy because Firefly is not on is what I was told. So we should agree, but if we only have $5000 when they have to make a decision for the next year. They have to know if the money’s there before the people will sign up with the city. So we can’t just leave at $5,000 We have to set it in the budget higher next year. Change it upon how this year goes if we just have $5,000 and they have to wait to see are you going to come across and help us again we may lose it. We want to have this on a continuing basis. That’s the consideration to determine. Is it valuable to the city?”

Councilman Culotta agreed with Councilman Marabello but he felt DMI should look into other methods for funding this event rather than coming to the city for funds.

“I thank you all for considering this. The reason we came tonight was to ask for the $30,000 that has already been approved. And we want it for this year for the Ladybug Festival. That’s why we’re here tonight. We are very busy right now,” Peggy Reilly of DMI said. “Once we knew that we could come up with the money one way or another DMI is trying to get sponsors. We’re working on a $15,000 sponsorship right now which gave us $15,000 last year and we are working on grants. The most important thing is really sponsorships and to get those sponsorships going.”

Councilman James pointed out that the $30,000 had already been approved so the city could just send the funds to DMI at any time. Whitfield stated that there was no need for council to vote on the initial $30,000 as it was currently in the budget.

“First, I just want to say thank you that you recognize that this is a valuable festival for our community, and that there is some competition, not just competition here in Delaware, but they’re also looking to spread it into Maryland, as well. Ellicott City has called me to ask me about it but told them I couldn’t talk to them,” Janne Collins, Executive Director of DMI, said. “All they are asking is if we could have the check by the 30th and they are working on funding. They’re looking at DOA money as well. We have some organizations throughout the city that we think might help even in smaller ways. So sometimes it’s small and its large amounts that we get, and we’re doing the best we can I think economy is making that more difficult than it is usually. And that is also why the cost is going up because everything that the organization that we contract with has to do to pull in all the stages, all the sound equipment, just like everything has gone up for us. It’s gone up for them too.”

Councilman James continued to express some reluctance.

“My reluctance at least, I’m speaking as one council person, is not necessarily to target DMI or to dim the excitement it brings to Milford, we definitely want that. I want more of it. But I also have to understand, and I’m sharing with everyone that I can, that this adds to additional needs coming to Milford,” Councilman James said. “The economy is tight. What that means for the city and in the amount of money that we can have from taxpayers and other sources. is limited. There is a cut off, a defined amount, it doesn’t expand, over time and then we have to make tough decisions on what are the top priorities, like trash collection, law enforcement, all those other things gone? Proper staffing, increases in health care, we have tough decisions to make up in this upcoming budget session. So, I’m really trying to express to everyone who received funding from the City Milford, be patient and hold tight. We know that we want the citizens to have entertainment and leisure and enjoyment, but those must-haves must come first. So, we’re asking you to understand the position that we’re in in our decision making process.”

Collins stated that DMI did understand and that they were surprised at how much Gable’s costs rose over the past year. She explained that the organization was grateful for any type of support they received from council.

“We are glad that you love the festival as much as the community members do and we hope it is a grand success,” Collins said.

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