- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—WATERVILLE — The annual Festival at the Falls at Head of Falls off Front Street will not be held this year after the city discontinued funding the event in the 2015-16 budget, according to organizers.

The free festival, known before last year as the Franco-American Family Festival and held the first week in September, had been funded for many years with $4,500 from the city.

City Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, director of the Franco-American Heritage Society of Kennebec Valley, which hosted the festival, said she’s disappointed by the move. She has been festival coordinator the last four years.

She said she is disappointed the City Council did not object to removing the funding for the festival, which brings people of different cultures and religions together for a Sunday afternoon to share music, food, dancing and other activities. Visitors from as far away as Canada attended the festival and spent money at restaurants and shops in the city, she said.

“By taking this away for $4,500 — a drop in the bucket — is actually quite insulting,” Rancourt-Thomas said Monday. “I’m insulted by it.”

City Manager Michael Roy acknowledged that he presented his proposed budget to the council this year without including funding for the festival. Councilors could have chosen to put funding back into the budget, but they did not.

Roy said that $4,500 for an afternoon event was a lot of money, and he thought the attendance had declined over the last few years. Rancourt-Thomas disputed that, saying attendance had increased and hundreds of people attended last year.

Roy also said that no councilors questioned his proposal to discontinue funding the festival, and Rancourt-Thomas never made an argument for putting the money back into the budget.

Rancourt-Thomas said, however, that she did object in a budget discussion and was disappointed no one else backed her and fought to keep the funding.

Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said Monday that the council thought the festival should be self-sufficient.

“We were trying to reduce the amount of money we were giving to outside agencies,” he said. “We weren’t singling out any one group. We were just saying that these things should be self-sufficient, and taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for it.”

He said funding for Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program bus were proposed to be cut, but the council discussed the merits of both and decided to put funding for them back in the budget.

Pearley Lachance, who coordinated the festival for many years before Rancourt-Thomas took over and still helps organize it, said Monday that many nonprofit organizations counted on attending the festival to help raise money for their causes and showcase their organizations. For instance, the Franco-American Heritage Society, of which he is a member, hosted the tourtiere pie contest at the event to raise money for scholarships for students from area high schools. It also raised money to sponsor a film at the Maine International Film Festival, promotes Museum in the Streets, a walking tour of historic sites in the city, and a musical concert for youth. Beth Israel Congregation, St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus, Holy Spirit Council, of Waterville, were among organizations that were featured at the festival.

“This is a great thing because it shows the different cultures,” Lachance said. “What’s the product here? Heritage. What does it represent? It represents people. This is about people.”

Rancourt-Thomas agreed.

“That’s the biggest piece — we are promoting Waterville and we’re promoting the businesses in Waterville.”

They said that the Franco-American Heritage Society would pitch in some money if extra was needed for the festival, but most of the funding came from the city.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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(c)2015 Morning Sentinel (Waterville, Maine)

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