Lewiston still reviewing balloon festival finances

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LEWISTON — City officials are still examining the finances of the Great Falls Balloon Festival after someone connected to the 25-year-old event raised concerns about its management.

It will likely be another week or two before findings are presented to city councilors, who will then decide whether to continue to using taxpayer money to help out the festival.   

Lewiston Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau and Finance Director Heather Hunter had expected to complete their review by mid-April, in time to present the balloon festival to city councilors with other nonprofits seeking city assistance or in-kind donations for an event. The other nonprofits will still be discussed by city councilors Thursday, but Nadeau said he and Hunter haven’t had time to finish their examination of the balloon festival.

“I don’t do this level of analysis for all events,” Nadeau said. “This is the first time it’s actually been necessary to do something like this.”   

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The festival spans Lewiston and Auburn and is one of the area’s biggest and most popular events, drawing tens of thousands of people to the Twin Cities during a single weekend in August. More than 30 nonprofits sell food at the festival or otherwise rely on it for a large chunk of their annual fundraising.

The festival is run by a board of volunteers and has long been considered a 501(c)(4), a nonprofit that is tax-exempt even though donations are not tax-deductible as they are with a 501(c)3.

The festival is funded through sponsorship, donations and the sale of souvenir items. It also makes some money on passenger balloon rides and the fees it sets on for-profit vendors who have booths at the event and on nonprofits that sell food or other items.

The city lets the festival use Simard-Payne Memorial Park and spends about $16,000 each year on police patrols, Public Works assistance and other help.

Last month, someone connected with the event contacted Nadeau and raised concerns about its financial management. Those concerns came just weeks after three of five festival board members abruptly quit — two of whom told the Sun Journal they left because they were worried about the way the festival was being managed.

At the same time, a number of entertainers and businesses — including the festival’s insurer — said they’ve had to chase longtime treasurer Mell Hamlyn for months over payment and only recently got checks for work they did during the festival in August 2016.

There were also questions about the festival’s nonprofit status.

Hamlyn, who was one of only two board members left after the resignations, has called the allegations of mismanagement “unfounded.”

In an email Monday, she said the festival has some new board members and they are in the midst planning the upcoming 25th annual festival. 

ltice@sunjournal.com

A pair of balloons do a splash and dash in the Androscoggin River during Sunday morning’s launch at the 2016 Great Falls Balloon Festival.

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