Carnival guidelines needed

Published 1:34 pm Wednesday, April 21, 2004

By Staff
Three or four thousand dollars is a substantial sum of money for a small town non-profit organization, especially in a community with a number of good causes, all equally dependant on their friends' and neighbors' willingness to give. It can take quite a few bake sales, car washes and chicken dinners to raise that sort of cash, and every dollar taken in is yet another subtracted from a finite pool of charitable monies.
Even in a place like Brewton, where the needs of groups doing good work rarely go unmet, numbers with three or more zeroes attached to them are nothing to be sneezed at.
School-aged kids and their parents, the leaders and supporters of local organizations and others work hard, often over long periods of time, to bring in that much money.
Expanded activities in the schools and the chance to help large groups of fellow citizens make the hours, days and weeks that go into their efforts well worth it to them.
But there are a few ways three or four thousand dollars can be raised in a relatively short period of time, bypassing some of that legwork, and among them is the hosting of a carnival downtown, in the city's Burnt Corn Creek Park.
Periodically throughout the year, a ferris wheel, surrounded by carousels, gaming booths and concession stands, rises spinning from the park, drawing scores of people looking for an hour or so of fun. The money they spend amusing themselves goes toward whichever local group sponsored the carnival.
It's good fun for a good cause. And given the potential benefits, versus the amount of work involved for the carnival's backers, it's got to beat the heck out of selling candy bars and sunglasses door to door.
Not that setting up a carnival is easy. It certainly isn't. It requires a good deal of coordination, both locally and in dealing with an out-of-town company.
And, more and more of late, it involves jumping through a few hoops for the mayor and city council.
The obvious benefits of putting on a carnival in the park have recently led to more than the usual number of requests to use Burnt Corn for this purpose. The council, in an effort to bring some order to the situation, has formed a committee to come up with rules governing how and when the park can play host to a carnival.
Forming the committee was a good idea, and so far most of its suggestions make sense. Requiring a permitting process is a good suggestion, as is placing a limit on the number of carnivals the park can host in a year. The reasoning behind limiting the number of events stems from this theory: the town will support only a limited number of carnivals in any given year, and growing beyond that number will diminish the fundraising effectiveness of every one that's held.
That's sound reasoning, but it begs the question, "How many carnivals is too many?"
Frankly, it's hard to see Eastern Escambia County's carnival-going public thoroughly supporting more than three events a year, maybe four at the outside. One in the spring, two in the summer and one more in the fall might make for a good scheduling breakdown, if four is the number decided upon.
One way or another, it's obvious that the number of carnivals should be limited. If there's one going on down there every other week, people will tire of them quickly, and none of the groups involved will realize any real benefit. A goose with the potential to lay the occasional golden egg will have been killed off, and no one wants to see that.
But limiting the number of carnivals leads to another question: Who gets to host them, and make money from them?
If you're going to limit the number of events, it makes sense that each be aimed at benefiting the maximum number of people. In Brewton, the maximum number of people can be found under two kinds of roofs -- the roof of a school, or the roof of a church. Thus, carnival opportunities should be granted to groups affiliated with schools and churches. Any other group, if it wanted to host a carnival, should have to partner with either a school or a church, then split the proceeds with that institution. If no school or church is willing to lend its name to the effort, that might be a good indication that a carnival permit isn't appropriate.
These are just ideas. Who knows what the council will come up with in the end? The important thing is that use of our parks -- for carnivals or other purposes -- be granted with an eye toward fairness, and service of the greater community good.
The mayor and council have shown good judgement on this issue so far, getting out in front of it before it becomes a real source of contention. They should continue on, and put some firm, permanent guidelines in place. That'll go a long way toward keeping future public requests to host a carnival from turning into something else -- a circus.