St. Lazare Festival au Galop expenditures irks resident
YLJ FILE PHOTO/JOHN JANTAK
Event organizers have countered criticism citing the success of the first Au Galop event and said elected councillors unanimously agreed the event should continue.
Marc-André Esculier is taking municipal officials to task for what he feels is extravagant, non-essential spending by the town when it hosted its first Festival Saint-Lazare au Galop in early August.
Esculier raised the issue during question period at the last council meeting on September 1 by chiding Mayor Robert Grimaudo and the six municipal councillors present for arbitrarily deciding to hold the event at a cost of over $550,000 without first holding a public consultation meeting.
In an interview with Esculier at his home September 28, the semi-retired event planner told Your Local Journal that a public consultation was necessary to determine whether a majority of residents approved of the town staging an expensive event that taxpayers have to foot, especially when some residents are having financial problems.
“A responsible mayor and council would have held a public consultation,” said Esculier. “That’s my view and as I explained at the last council meeting, if there is no public consultation, then it becomes a personal project at the expense of the taxpayers. There was no need to launch a project that is not infrastructure related because it doesn’t address the needs of the citizens such as public security.”
Esculier was also critical of the amount of money the town spent on certain aspects of the event after he recently received a list of the expenditures from the town after making an official request through the province’s access to information laws. He noted there seemed to be a large discrepancy in the cost of certain items.
“When you look at the public stands that were set up for the RCMP Musical Ride which were very labour intensive, it cost $15,000 to seat 4,000 people,” said Esculier. “But the rental of bicycle stands cost $10,000. I find this somewhat questionable and I think it deserves to be looked into. I want to know why the bicycle stands cost so much more than what was paid to set up and then take down the seats.”
Esculier also doesn’t understand why town officials apparently chose to use outside concessionaires to provide food and refreshments instead of choosing local merchants. “Ninety-five per cent of the family activities were held in Parc Bedard. All the vendors selling food were from out of town; none were from St. Lazare.”
Grimaudo was also criticized by Esculier for promising that Au Galop would become an annual event for years to come. “I reminded the mayor at the last council meeting that an electoral mandate is not forever, it’s only for four years. The mayor has only two more years in his mandate. It was inappropriate for him to claim that the festival would be held forever.”
Your Local Journal was invited by Grimaudo, District 2 Councillor Pamela Tremblay, and the town’s Executive Director Serge Tremblay, to an impromptu meeting at city hall to clarify the town’s position regarding the event and related expenses on Wednesday, September 30.
Grimaudo said that $131,000 was spent to provide a permanent infrastructure at the equestrian park which includes electricity, water, footing and fencing and that this expenditure would not be included when the town stages the event in following years.
Expenditures for the salaries of town employees, which was $142,000, were also included in the amount that was spent for the Galop, which Grimaudo said is no different than when the town holds other events, such as its annual Fête de la Saint-Lazare.
“We have employees that are working for over a week on this event,” said Grimaudo. “In the documents we provided to Mr. Esculier for the Galop, we included all the salaries. Should they be included? Sure, it was part of the event but it would have been spent regardless because the employees needed to get the facilities ready.
“When you take these factors into consideration, the actual cost of the event was $309,000,” Grimaudo added. “It’s expensive. We went over budget. We had originally budgeted $180,000.”
“We also went over budget because as the project came along, there were other ideas that were proposed so we included them as part of the budget,” said Councillor Tremblay who is also the president of the Galop.
Grimaudo said the town held a public information session in mid-April to present the Au Galop project which was attended by about 50 people, including some members of the business community. “To say we’re not transparent (is false),” he said.
“We are elected to take decisions,” said Grimaudo. “When it comes to organizing events that put St. Lazare on the map and doing what’s right for the community to bring people together, I don’t think I need to consult the population about being a good member of the community.”
On the issue of local merchants apparently being excluded from the event, Grimaudo said the town did inform the Gens d’affaires de Saint-Lazare merchants association about the Galop. “After we approached them, it was no longer up to us to chase them. It was up to them to say, ‘Yes, we’re interested.’ Some merchants said let’s wait and see if it’s successful this year.”
Grimaudo added that even though the equestrian community represents a small percentage of the population, it’s an important heritage that has to be maintained because that’s what attracts people to move into the town. He also noted that all the events and activities, aside from the RCMP Musical Ride which raised $40,000 for cancer research, were free for everyone who attended the three day event.
“It has to be said that we’re extremely proud and pleased with this event,” said Grimaudo. “It was unanimously decided by council that the event should go on. We are extremely satisfied at the result and the 10,000 people who showed up. The event itself was an extreme success.”