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Carnival Financial Impact Studied, But Audit Fought

June 27, 2004 – The V. I. Carnival Committee has been in the public eye of late, with loud, discordant accusations flying back and forth between the committee's leadership and the Legislature's Finance Committee. Over the past two months there have been moments when those on both sides have called the future of Carnival itself into question.
At the heart of the debate is a simple question: does the government of the Virgin Islands have the right to audit the finances of the Carnival Committee? The answer, however, has not been simple to find, and it appears now it will be decided in court.
But at the Carnival Committee's fifth annual post-Carnival symposium focus was pulled from the committee's disagreement with the Senate, at least for the time being, and placed on another contentious issue. Saturday's symposium, "How Does Carnival Impact the Local Economy?" addressed the claim, made in February at the Carnival Kickoff by Internal Revenue Bureau Director Louis Willis that the "Carnival contributes a minimum of $65 million to the V.I. economy annually."
Kenneth Blake, carnival committee chairperson, welcomed the invited speakers, panelists and audience members saying, "We are all looking for ideas on how we can improve our product. With input from you we can do a better job."
The symposium's main speakers were the husband and wife team from Trinidad, Gary Garcia and Anne Procope-Garcia. The two have made carnivals the world over the subject of academic scrutiny and have concluded, in the words of Gary, "Carnival is not fun and games. Carnival is serious business."
Excerpting from an academic paper called "Carnival Ecology," the couple presented a series of charts that displayed how entire populations are drawn into a carnival. The two also made the assertion that carnival non-participants end up feeding the economy too.
The example cited for the latter point, which many in the audience agreed with, is how those with religious objections to the "flesh" frequently on display during a carnival will often organize counter-events like barbecues and church outings. Such spending, the couple asserted, remains a part of the overall "ecology."
Anne said that because of "disorganization and poor marketing" the Trinbago Carnival, as their two-day event is known, is "in trouble."
Still, the two estimate that preparations alone for the event pumped close to $8 million into the economy of Trinidad and Tobago.
Some items included on the Garcia's list of preparatory expenses were: children's costumes for the Port of Spain competition, $490,000; adult costumes for the same competition, $5.5 million; calypsonians and musicians, $417,000. Half of the budget for the Trinbago Carnival comes from their government, according to the Garcias.
To help generate more revenue from the event, Anne said the government has mandated professional photographers and camera crews to obtain licenses to capture images of their carnival. Anne estimates the government has collected as much as $100,000 from such licenses.
Information supplied by Virgin Islanders speaking on three separate panels – a support panel, a business organizations panel and a government panel – supported the idea that the overall economic impact of Carnival on the local economy is large.
Michael Phillips, regional manager of Avis Car Rental and member of the business panel, said Carnival and Christmas are the two busiest times of the year for Avis. Phillips said Avis was out of cars completely two weeks before Carnival this year. Avis earned, he said, between $75,000 and $100,000 for the month of April. He also said they had to add extra staff to handle the demand.
Willis, speaking – and sometimes singing Calypso – for the government panel, said he now considers the "$65 million figure to be conservative." In support of this estimate, Willis and Lauritz Mills, of the Bureau of Economic Research, produced more than a dozen charts mapping elements of the local economy.
"People think Carnival is just johnny-cake and salt-fish, but it's a lot more than that," Mills said before supporting her point with data covering several years. According to Mills, "There is a regular bump in government revenues around Carnival time" of, on average, $2.8 million.
Mills and Willis showed how the amount of gross receipts and excise taxes taken in by the government spikes around April, May and sometimes June. That this happens a month or more after Carnival is because, Willis explained, there is "a month delay in the collection of these taxes" and he added that "there are years when we see people paying these taxes late."
Gross receipts figures presented by Willis show an increase at Carnival time. In March 2002, $4.2 million was collected, but in April the number jumped to $9.8 million, and in May, $13 million, revenues for June dropped to $6.2 million. Similarly, in 2003, March collections stood at $7.3 million, then in April the number "spiked" to $10.3 million, then in May and June collections level off at $9 million and $9.4 million respectively.
And just in case anybody wanted to credit the increase in gross receipts collection on tourists alone, Mills provided evidence that cruise ship and overnight guest arrivals begin to fall during the same time period.
Mills said a serious long-term study remains to be done and she considered the data they've collected to be anecdotal, but maintained her belief that Carnival brings a major boost in local spending. "And it's not just during Carnival," she said, "It really starts in January when troupes and bands begin preparing, building, rehearsing and purchasing materials for costumes."
Long-time Gypsy Troupe member James Boschulte, and six-year Food Fair veteran, Kathleen Ryan, speaking on the support panel, provided information that was supportive of the idea that Carnival leaves behind a large economic footprint every year. Boschulte said that between costumes ($9,000), rent ($15,000), parade day expenses ($6,600) and other outlays, the Gypsies spent $31,000 for this year's parade, "with upwards of 90 percent of that money spent locally."
The Gypsies have an active membership of 125 and are, according to Boschulte, "a small to medium-sized troupe." The Gypsies were among the 57 entrants of troupes, floats, kings, queens, princesses and princes who marched in this year's Adult Parade. There were also 39 groups in the Children's Parade.
Ryan said she's been at Food Fair selling dishes prepared by herself and her family for six years. This year she made "trash-bag" shrimp, conch in butter sauce, king fish and stewed chicken with the help of her fiancée and children. She said she spent "about $500" on all her ingredients and pulled in $2,000 during the one-day event. There were more than 100 local cooks, artists and craftspeople selling their wares at food fair this year, according to Carnival Committee members present at the symposium.
The Carnival Committee distributed copies of their 2003 financial report during the event. The six-page document is lean on details, but shows adjusted expenditures of just under $900,000, and revenue's totaling just over $900,000, including $325,000 given by the Legislature on behalf of the taxpayers of the Virgin Islands.
Despite promises to the contrary, Sen. Adlah Donastorg did not appear at the symposium. In a letter dated June 22, Donastorg informed Blake that he "would not miss it [the symposium] for the world."
In fact, the only Senator to make an appearance was David Jones, Senate president, who said he is for even larger government support for Carnival.
"The people must understand that you get what you pay for sometimes, but you always pay for what you get. I believe the basic budget for Carnival should be $1 million."
The Carnival Commi
ttee's executive director, Caswil D. Callender kept a low profile at the symposium, opting to listen to invitees rather than speak. Stepping outside the room he said, "The presentation has been excellent so far."
"We're a little disappointed that some of the people who should be here are not, but I guess they are satisfied with having misinformation and don't want to be confused by hearing the truth."
The Senate Finance Committee moved on June 4 to petition the territorial court to force the Carnival Committee to turn over a number of their financial documents. Callender has been clear about his belief that "these attacks on the Carnival Committee" are politically motivated.
"This issue is not about respect for the institution [V.I. Legislature], it's about the fact that we are not a part of the government and they have no business looking at our books," Callender said.
Callender also hopes that the matter is cleared up before election time.
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June 27, 2004 - The V. I. Carnival Committee has been in the public eye of late, with loud, discordant accusations flying back and forth between the committee's leadership and the Legislature's Finance Committee. Over the past two months there have been moments when those on both sides have called the future of Carnival itself into question.
At the heart of the debate is a simple question: does the government of the Virgin Islands have the right to audit the finances of the Carnival Committee? The answer, however, has not been simple to find, and it appears now it will be decided in court.
But at the Carnival Committee's fifth annual post-Carnival symposium focus was pulled from the committee's disagreement with the Senate, at least for the time being, and placed on another contentious issue. Saturday's symposium, "How Does Carnival Impact the Local Economy?" addressed the claim, made in February at the Carnival Kickoff by Internal Revenue Bureau Director Louis Willis that the "Carnival contributes a minimum of $65 million to the V.I. economy annually."
Kenneth Blake, carnival committee chairperson, welcomed the invited speakers, panelists and audience members saying, "We are all looking for ideas on how we can improve our product. With input from you we can do a better job."
The symposium's main speakers were the husband and wife team from Trinidad, Gary Garcia and Anne Procope-Garcia. The two have made carnivals the world over the subject of academic scrutiny and have concluded, in the words of Gary, "Carnival is not fun and games. Carnival is serious business."
Excerpting from an academic paper called "Carnival Ecology," the couple presented a series of charts that displayed how entire populations are drawn into a carnival. The two also made the assertion that carnival non-participants end up feeding the economy too.
The example cited for the latter point, which many in the audience agreed with, is how those with religious objections to the "flesh" frequently on display during a carnival will often organize counter-events like barbecues and church outings. Such spending, the couple asserted, remains a part of the overall "ecology."
Anne said that because of "disorganization and poor marketing" the Trinbago Carnival, as their two-day event is known, is "in trouble."
Still, the two estimate that preparations alone for the event pumped close to $8 million into the economy of Trinidad and Tobago.
Some items included on the Garcia's list of preparatory expenses were: children's costumes for the Port of Spain competition, $490,000; adult costumes for the same competition, $5.5 million; calypsonians and musicians, $417,000. Half of the budget for the Trinbago Carnival comes from their government, according to the Garcias.
To help generate more revenue from the event, Anne said the government has mandated professional photographers and camera crews to obtain licenses to capture images of their carnival. Anne estimates the government has collected as much as $100,000 from such licenses.
Information supplied by Virgin Islanders speaking on three separate panels - a support panel, a business organizations panel and a government panel - supported the idea that the overall economic impact of Carnival on the local economy is large.
Michael Phillips, regional manager of Avis Car Rental and member of the business panel, said Carnival and Christmas are the two busiest times of the year for Avis. Phillips said Avis was out of cars completely two weeks before Carnival this year. Avis earned, he said, between $75,000 and $100,000 for the month of April. He also said they had to add extra staff to handle the demand.
Willis, speaking - and sometimes singing Calypso - for the government panel, said he now considers the "$65 million figure to be conservative." In support of this estimate, Willis and Lauritz Mills, of the Bureau of Economic Research, produced more than a dozen charts mapping elements of the local economy.
"People think Carnival is just johnny-cake and salt-fish, but it's a lot more than that," Mills said before supporting her point with data covering several years. According to Mills, "There is a regular bump in government revenues around Carnival time" of, on average, $2.8 million.
Mills and Willis showed how the amount of gross receipts and excise taxes taken in by the government spikes around April, May and sometimes June. That this happens a month or more after Carnival is because, Willis explained, there is "a month delay in the collection of these taxes" and he added that "there are years when we see people paying these taxes late."
Gross receipts figures presented by Willis show an increase at Carnival time. In March 2002, $4.2 million was collected, but in April the number jumped to $9.8 million, and in May, $13 million, revenues for June dropped to $6.2 million. Similarly, in 2003, March collections stood at $7.3 million, then in April the number "spiked" to $10.3 million, then in May and June collections level off at $9 million and $9.4 million respectively.
And just in case anybody wanted to credit the increase in gross receipts collection on tourists alone, Mills provided evidence that cruise ship and overnight guest arrivals begin to fall during the same time period.
Mills said a serious long-term study remains to be done and she considered the data they've collected to be anecdotal, but maintained her belief that Carnival brings a major boost in local spending. "And it's not just during Carnival," she said, "It really starts in January when troupes and bands begin preparing, building, rehearsing and purchasing materials for costumes."
Long-time Gypsy Troupe member James Boschulte, and six-year Food Fair veteran, Kathleen Ryan, speaking on the support panel, provided information that was supportive of the idea that Carnival leaves behind a large economic footprint every year. Boschulte said that between costumes ($9,000), rent ($15,000), parade day expenses ($6,600) and other outlays, the Gypsies spent $31,000 for this year's parade, "with upwards of 90 percent of that money spent locally."
The Gypsies have an active membership of 125 and are, according to Boschulte, "a small to medium-sized troupe." The Gypsies were among the 57 entrants of troupes, floats, kings, queens, princesses and princes who marched in this year's Adult Parade. There were also 39 groups in the Children's Parade.
Ryan said she's been at Food Fair selling dishes prepared by herself and her family for six years. This year she made "trash-bag" shrimp, conch in butter sauce, king fish and stewed chicken with the help of her fiancée and children. She said she spent "about $500" on all her ingredients and pulled in $2,000 during the one-day event. There were more than 100 local cooks, artists and craftspeople selling their wares at food fair this year, according to Carnival Committee members present at the symposium.
The Carnival Committee distributed copies of their 2003 financial report during the event. The six-page document is lean on details, but shows adjusted expenditures of just under $900,000, and revenue's totaling just over $900,000, including $325,000 given by the Legislature on behalf of the taxpayers of the Virgin Islands.
Despite promises to the contrary, Sen. Adlah Donastorg did not appear at the symposium. In a letter dated June 22, Donastorg informed Blake that he "would not miss it [the symposium] for the world."
In fact, the only Senator to make an appearance was David Jones, Senate president, who said he is for even larger government support for Carnival.
"The people must understand that you get what you pay for sometimes, but you always pay for what you get. I believe the basic budget for Carnival should be $1 million."
The Carnival Commi ttee's executive director, Caswil D. Callender kept a low profile at the symposium, opting to listen to invitees rather than speak. Stepping outside the room he said, "The presentation has been excellent so far."
"We're a little disappointed that some of the people who should be here are not, but I guess they are satisfied with having misinformation and don't want to be confused by hearing the truth."
The Senate Finance Committee moved on June 4 to petition the territorial court to force the Carnival Committee to turn over a number of their financial documents. Callender has been clear about his belief that "these attacks on the Carnival Committee" are politically motivated.
"This issue is not about respect for the institution [V.I. Legislature], it's about the fact that we are not a part of the government and they have no business looking at our books," Callender said.
Callender also hopes that the matter is cleared up before election time.
Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much -- and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice... click here.