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Councilman questions legality of funding Niles Riverfest

Published 1:00pm Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Niles City Council postponed a decision Monday on whether or not to provide $2,500 to the 21st annual Niles Riverfest.

At issue was some research done by councilman David Mann on the legality of using public monies for festivals. Mann told the council Monday he believes it would be illegal for the city to provide public funding for the Riverfest, according to the Michigan Municipal League’s “Handbook for Municipal Officials – Basic Finance.”

“The Riverfest, to use it as an example… the city does not operate that festival, and the definition of a public purpose does not seem to apply to it under Michigan Law,” he said.

Niles has provided some funding to the Riverfest in the past, but did not fund it last year.

City Administrator Ric Huff said, to his knowledge, the legality of funding the Riverfest hasn’t come up in past audits.

“There is a little bit of a grey area if the activity you are co-sponsoring is free and open to everyone in the community to attend, then that has not been flagged as an improper expense,” Huff said.

Niles Riverfest is a free event open to the public.

Councilman Robert Durm introduced a motion to table the decision until the council’s July 22 meeting. It passed 7-1 with Scott Clark dissenting.

Clark had introduced a motion earlier in the meeting to strip the city’s $2,500 donation from the Riverfest.

“It’s not that I don’t support the Riverfest, it’s that I don’t support donating money to any festival at this time,” he said.

Council members had several questions for Niles Riverfest Inc., a private organization which runs the festival. No one representing Niles Riverfest Inc. was present at the meeting.

Lisa Croteau, of Niles DDA Main Street, said Niles Riverfest has not obtained its non-profit status, but is in the process of doing so.

Niles Riverfest is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 1-4. The Riverfest committee requested a $2,500 donation from the city along with support from the city’s fire and police departments and the department of public works. The impact on the city’s budget, not including the $2,500 donation, would be $3,600.

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