LEWISTON — The theme for this year’s Great Falls Balloon Festival will focus on the festival’s 25th anniversary.

Festival treasurer Mell Hamlyn said Monday that organizers will officially announce the theme and update the festival’s website this week. On Monday, the website still showed information for the “Star Wars”-themed 2016 festival.

In recent years, organizers typically announced the theme in April or May. Visitors have been asking about a theme on the festival’s Facebook page for the past two months.

Hamlyn acknowledged the theme announcement is “a little bit late.” She said the group is waiting for some graphic design work to be finished.

Hamlyn said nothing else is running late for the August festival.

The balloon 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. More than 30 nonprofits sell food at the festival or otherwise rely on it for a large chunk of their annual fundraising.

The festival has been the focus of concern in recent months. Some of those concerns have been resolved. At least one — the festival’s status as a federally tax-exempt nonprofit — has not.

Earlier this year, three of the board’s five members abruptly quit. Some entertainers and business owners, including the festival’s insurer, said they had to chase Hamlyn for months over payment. Questions were raised about whether the organization was still a nonprofit since it had lost its federal 501(c)(4) status in 2013 for failing to file paperwork for the previous three years and the state dissolved the festival as a nonprofit corporation in 2015 for failing to update its contact information.

In February, Hamlyn said that “some things may have been missed” because the board didn’t have enough members to do all of the work. She also said she sent out payments and the required nonprofit paperwork, but the intended recipients said they never got them.

In March, Lewiston officials said they would examine the festival’s finances after someone connected with the event raised concerns about mismanagement.

In May, the City Council voted unanimously to support the 2017 festival — spending just over $17,500 in taxpayer money on police patrols and other assistance — without hearing from Finance Director Heather Hunter about what she found looking into the festival’s finances.

Hunter told the Sun Journal she found no improprieties but did have some recommendations for ways the festival could better document procedures, deal with bank reconciliation and capture information on balloon launch tickets. Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau emphasized that the examination was not a forensic audit.

Hamlyn said at the time she and the board would review Hunter’s suggestions. 

On Monday, Hamlyn said the festival’s board now has eight members, up from the two who remained after the others abruptly resigned.

The state now lists the balloon festival as a nonprofit corporation in good standing. However, the IRS said Monday that the festival’s federal tax-exempt status is still revoked.

The festival is scheduled for Aug. 18-20.

[email protected]

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


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.