This month, more than 100 local residents weighed in on the question of whether or not the Pumpkin Festival should continue, submitting written comments to city officials. But the collective soul-searching didn’t yield a resounding “yes” or “no.”
The number in favor of keeping the festival was on par with those who want it gone, as well as those who didn’t express an opinion one way or another.
Most of the written comments, letters and emails — many of them lengthy — were submitted after a community forum earlier this month explored a range of questions related to the festival and the riots that erupted outside the event’s footprint.
Topics included whether shedding the festival would hurt the downtown economy, how Keene State College could get a handle on student drinking and who should have to foot the bill for the festival and riot damages.
The public comments are being prepared for city councilors and members of a commission that includes city and college officials.
But Mayor Kendall W. Lane said they would not be in charge of deciding whether or not the Pumpkin Festival would happen in 2015.
Following the recent forum, there are no plans for the city and commission to keep discussing the festival, according to Lane.
“Right now, it’s in the hands of (festival organizer) Let It Shine to decide how they’re going to proceed,” he said, adding the commission has talked about how to prevent future large parties from spinning out of control.
“What they’re working on has really nothing to do with the Pumpkin Fest,” Lane said.
A number of people who submitted public comments brought up the idea of replacing the Pumpkin Festival with a smaller community event.
“Let’s get back to basics,” wrote Keene resident Toby Tousley. The talent and energy it takes for this event can, and should be, used to start a new community-based event. We don’t need the entire world taking over our street.”
Some said they’re not happy the city contributes money to Let It Shine. This year, the city paid $57,000 toward the cost of overtime for law enforcement and public works on Pumpkin Festival weekend. The money will be absorbed by next year’s budget, meaning there will be less money to offset taxes.
One man complained in his comments that Keene taxpayers bear the brunt of the event’s cost.
“Keene property owners are the only citizens in Cheshire County who pay taxes to support the Pumpkin Festival,” wrote city resident Peter Tandy. “That’s just wrong and the city council should stop this practice!”
The riots that engulfed parts of the city on Oct. 17 and 18 resulted in property damage and more than 100 arrests. While overtime costs for police, firefighters and public works staff working during Pumpkin Festival weekend have ranged in recent years from $76,246 to $94,557, this year that total swelled to $147,662.
The city’s announcement that it’s billing Let It Shine $90,662 of this has prompted a public debate on who should foot the cost.
Many local residents took to Facebook to air their thoughts, and looked to Keene State College and college-age partiers to pick up the tab.
Now, it’s up to Let It Shine whether to make a formal request for funding help to the city or the college, according to city officials.
City Manager John A. MacLean said earlier this week that if organization representatives want to discuss the bill in front of city councilors, they will have the opportunity to do so.
Regardless, several residents said one bad year shouldn’t kill the tradition.
Keene Pumpkin Festival founder and city resident Nancy Sporborg called the event “the most beautiful community gathering full-of-light thing that happens in Keene NH.”
“Please don’t let evil take that away,” she wrote in her submitted comment.
“Yes there is rif-raf and this year was out of control,” wrote city resident Ethan Frock. “I do not want these ‘bad apples’ to spoil the bunch.”