By Josh LaBella
Mayor Nancy Rossi recently announced the city was going to host the Savin Rock Festival after canceling it in 2018.
Rossi said her decision to bring back the festival was motivated by the fact that the city is “in the black” for the first time since 2006 when the audit was restated. She said she is going to request the Municipal Accountability Review Board allow the city to use its surplus to pay off some of the over $51,000 deficit the Savin Rock Festival amassed since 2014.
“I evaluated all programs and events to see if there was a deficit and the Savin Rock Festival had a deficit that grew larger over the last 4 years,” said Rossi. “So the City had to make the difficult decision to suspend the festival until West Haven was in a better financial position.”
A 10-year account detail report given to the Voice by the Finance Department shows the Savin Rock Festival, which is usually held in July, had a consistent deficit starting in 2014 – when its account balance was negative $804. The trend continued and, in 2018, it was canceled after losses of more than $32,000.
“This was a financial decision and it was a difficult decision to suspend the festival,” said Rossi, “but the city can no longer spend money that we don’t have.”
Rossi said, in order to avoid losing more money by hosting the festival, the city will appoint a committee to fundraise, plan ahead, and stick to its assigned budget.
Edward O’Brien, who was mayor during the time of the losses, said he does not trust that all revenues the finance department provided are included in the report.
“I also do not think she [Rossi] understands the value festivals bring to a community,” said O’Brien. “In the spreadsheet… there were a lot of expenses that I didn’t see included in years prior to me being mayor – and I know there were revenues that were not included in the years I was mayor.”
The former mayor went on to say Rossi’s decision to cancel and bring back the festival was politically driven.
“Her goal was to blame me with her creative finances,” said O’Brien. “It is also obvious that it has backfired on her and she is now trying to justify her bad decision because it’s an election year.”
O’Brien went on to say that Rossi has ruined the fabric of the community by cancelling its festivals, concerts and cultural events.
“This summer, as in last, our residents will be visiting surrounding towns for entertainment and thousands of people from around the state will be passing by West Haven to visit and spend their money in surrounding towns,” said O’Brien. “Where is that loss of revenue accounted for?”
O’Brien said he was confident Rossi’s decision would not fool the citizens of West Haven.
“The people are smarter and on to her this time around,” said O’Brien.
The Savin Rock Festival originated in the Chamber of Commerce office when it was at 666 Savin Ave. in 1981. It was billed as a celebration of life in a shore community. The first year saw more than 50,000 attend a one-day event.
The first several years of the festival were housed at Ken Strong Stadium and the surrounding fields. The reconstruction and rehab of the fields into the Frank Fitzgerald Athletic Complex in 1989 forced organizers to find a new venue.
Despite opposition, the festival was moved to the Old Grove Park at Savin Rock, where it continued until its suspension last year.