Photo: Catherine Avalone / Hearst Connecticut Media File Photo
WEST HAVEN — Mayor Nancy Rossi announced Thursday that if she can secure “permission” from the state board overseeing city finances to pay off the Savin Rock festival deficit, she will bring back the popular shoreline event in 2020.
Rossi released the news in a season when some of her would-be mayoral opponents have made bringing back Savin Rock Festival part of their platform under quality of life.
“The city of West Haven will pay off the $53,845 deficit in the Savin Rock Festival Fund, only after securing permission from the state Municipal Accountability Review Board, using a small amount of the projected operating budget surplus this fiscal year,” Rossi said in the release.
After running consecutive deficits, according to her release, the festival was canceled in 2018 “as the city began addressing its overall financial situation.”
“The festival fund ran deficits over several years, Rossi said, and is in the red for $53,845. The cumulative deficit of $53,845 excluded police expenses and included public works expenses only for two years, the release states.
Rossi’s release said that city records show the 2017 festival ran a deficit of $32,606. That festival had revenues of $39,292 and expenses of $71,898, with the largest expenditure being $30,000 for entertainment.
Rossi said in the release that she’s had to made some tough decisions to “fix the city,” and canceling the festival was one of them.
“We are in a much better place than we were 18 months ago,” the mayor said. “Once we pay off the old deficit in the festival fund, I will appoint a committee and ask for volunteers to be responsible for organizing and running the festival in 2020 within an established budget. The festival will request sponsors and charge a reasonable fee for food, ride and entertainment vendors to cover the cost of the event.”
The cancellation of the festival has been a huge negative issue among many residents, who often use it as an example of quality of life in the city being decreased while taxes are high and still going up.
When Rossi announced the cancellation of the 2018 Savin Rock Festival, she said she did so with “sadness,” and apologized to residents, saying, “I did promise to make tough and unpopular decisions to get our city back on track.” She also at the time canceled the mayor’s annual December Christmas party.
The city isn’t quite “on track” yet, the MARB has made it clear, but doing better through some changes made by Rossi’s administration, and nearly $20 million in restructuring funds given to the city by the state.
“The Savin Rock Festival is a great event and highlights the city’s rich history,” Rossi said. “I look forward to bringing the festival and all the memories and nostalgia back to Old Grove Park next year.”
Rossi’s press release Thursday gave a history of the Savin Rock festival, saying: “West Haven’s flagship festival was established by the Chamber of Commerce — initially under the direction of Brian M. Stone, David Gesler and Michael Shiner and thereafter by John L. Perrone and his wife, Mary Perrone — to bring organizations, clubs, businesses and families together for a summer festival that celebrates life in one of America’s oldest coastal communities.”
Her piece of history continued: “From the dawn of the Savin Rock House hotel in 1838, “the Rock” had long been a resort hub until it was officially incorporated as an amusement park by the Savin Rock Park Co. on Memorial Day 1925, when it opened to 300,000 visitors and 66,000 automobiles in one spectacular day.
For the next four decades, the popular seaside park captured the hearts and imaginations of “Rock rats” of all ages with its distinctive sights, sounds and smells. “The playground of New England” shuttered Sept. 21, 1966, to pave the way for the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Project.”