Is this year’s Andouille Festival on the chopping block?

Published 12:15 am Saturday, March 23, 2019

LAPLACE — Parish Council members are considering drastically changing Andouille Festival management or possibly scrapping the whole thing altogether if a more financially prudent way of running St. John the Baptist Parish’s namesake event is not discovered.

According to Larry Sorapuru Jr., last year’s festival lost between $170,000 and $200,000.

That news prompted the Division A Councilman at Large to place an item on Tuesday’s Council agenda requesting to cancel the Andouille Festival. According to the agenda, the item requires action be taken.

Sorapuru stressed to L’OBSERVATEUR his goal is not to cancel the festival, but simply hold it to higher financial management standards. He favors transferring control of the festival to a nonprofit or commercial festival agency.

“The amount of money being spent with employees paid to work the festival and time spent on putting together the Andouille Festival could have been given to service the community and our constituents,” Sorapuru said. “Those tax dollars need to be spent on providing services to the parish. The Andouille Fest should not be our No. 1 priority.”

Sorapuru said he plans to ask fellow Parish Council members to examine the physical condition the parish is in, with special attention paid to unmet needs.

“I don’t want them to think I am against the Andouille Fest, but I think, as elected officials, we would not want to have a business run every day in this type of deficit,” Sorapuru said.

Parish President Natalie Robottom does not favor Andouille Festival cancelation, noting a number of factors that can be improved contributed to the loss taken for the 2018 event.

Robottom said sponsorships were down by $44,000 in 2018 compared to 2017, which got the festival off to a rough start.

The parish president also said St. John staff members were specifically instructed to reduce the number of hours worked at the event by parish employees. Yet, the actual expenditure in that category from 2017 to 2018 jumped by $60,000.

With renewed focus in those two areas, Robottom said, St. John could improve more than $100,000 to the festival bottom line.

While acknowledging the financial loss the festival takes, which has gone on every year in recent memory, Robottom said those advocating for its cancelation are “misguided and misled.”

“You can’t just look at a number and think you know something,” she said. “You have to have an understanding of what goes into the whole thing.”

Numerous local schools and service organizations work the Andouille Festival each year, selling various products and consumables from their respective booths, taking home 100 percent of the revenue. Robottom said those organizations count on that money to fund their yearly agendas, which include significant reinvestment back into St. John.

Losing attendees who visit from other parishes and states would also cause a negative ripple effect, Robottom said.

“The mere fact that we have people eating at our restaurants, staying in our hotels and our residents coming together to support small businesses, small vendors and small crafters creates an economic impact to the parish other than the profit-loss statement (Council members) are looking at it,” Robottom said.

One way to improve the bottom line is increasing booth rental fees and festival admission fees. Those moves have long been advocated by administrators, Robottom said, but have met resistance when presented to the Parish Council.

If put to a cancelation vote, Councilman Thomas Malik said he is undecided on where his feelings would fall; however, the District 7 representative said major changes are needed for the parish government to continue operating the event.

“The parish is paying people to work it, and you look at them and there is six or seven people sitting around doing absolutely nothing,” Malik said.

“I wouldn’t want to see the Andouille Festival go away. The intent of it is for economic development. What should be done is a comparative contrast over the last ten years to see has it always been this losing venture. If we break even and make some people happy, that is fine, but to consistently lose that much money is not the way to go.”

According to Malik, there is room for expense savings by trimming the parish’s reliance on paid consultants who operate various festival aspects with little specific benefit.

Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard said it is unfortunate that a “surface level” glance at the Andouille Festival led to it being placed on the agenda for permanent cancellation.

She said the Andouille Festival is a “quality of life” event much like many of the events hosted by the parish, such as the 4th of July fireworks show. According to Hotard, the Andouille Festival also brings in ancillary revenue, such as tax revenue, that cannot simply be captured on a profit and loss statement.

“I believe the placement of the cancellation of the festival on the agenda is nothing more than an uninformed, political reaction not supported by any further analysis,”Hotard said. “Not to mention the item as written cannot result in the cancellation of the festival anyway. It is my hope that before any rash decisions are made that we take a comprehensive, and not a selective, look at all Parish events.”

The Parish Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers at the Government Complex in LaPlace.