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Paul Bunyan Days a go, but Akeley Council cuts municipal funding

Akeley Paul Bunyan Days has gotten the ax.

The city festival will likely no longer be receiving municipal funds, including $4,000 requested for this summer's event.

City attorney Steve Bolton, asked to investigate the matter of contributions to community celebrations, reported, "It's a basic principle of law that a public entity cannot contribute to a private entity, and on that basis, I do not believe it is appropriate for the city to donate money to Paul Bunyan Days."

The letter on the matter arrived a day after the council conducted a work session with the issue on the agenda.

Mayor Scott Vettleson, who'd originally questioned the legality of the city's contribution, was not at this week's meeting.

But acting mayor Cliff Johnson noted, "We're backwards in this," referring to asking taxpayers to fund community celebrations, "when we're looking at possibly having to cut jobs."

Akeley has generally granted the requested amounts in the past, including $1,500 last fall for Hay Days.

The council had earlier agreed proceeds from pull-tabs at the liquor store could be earmarked for such expenditures. Pull-tab sales are administered by the Eastern Hubbard County Fire District (EHCFD).

The city has asked for the maximum 20 percent contribution, which is now deposited in the general fund. The monthly amount received by the city ranges from $500 to $1,500, according to fire chief Lee Johnson. This is down somewhat from previous years, due to the recessionary economy.

Paul Bunyan Days' budget is approximately $15,000 per year, according to committee member Denice Johnson. Profits are set aside for the next year's event, with EHCFD also asked to contribute from pull tab profits ($4,000 to $5,000) and the VFW adding to the coffers ($500 to $2,000) annually.

"Paul Bunyan Days is a terrific weekend for city businesses," she said. People reserve camping sites specifically to attend the event.

Last year's gross profit at the liquor store was approximately $17,500 for the weekend, according to liquor store manager Bob Winner.

Twenty years ago, community members were considering ending the tradition. But a group formed under the C&C blanket, Denise Johnson said, and brought the celebration back to life.

"I can't say it will die," she said. "But it's a possibility.

She noted the city has hired engineers to assess street paving options - at considerable cost to taxpayers - but nothing comes of it.

"Local, county and state wastefulness has gotten us into the mess we're in," she reflected. "It's sad, but it's a sign of the times. It's disappointing to me and my crew of (eight) workers. We give 110 percent. This isn't something that happens overnight.

"We could scale back or let it go or another group might step up," Denice Johnson said. "We'll have to see how it plays out."

But this year's event, slated for June 26-28, will be staged as planned. "We'll pull it off and go from there."