Reporter-Herald Staff Writer
Loveland’s Winter Holiday Council volunteers are considering hanging up their Santa hats due to persistent financial problems that have made it increasingly difficult for the group to spangle the city for the holidays.
Council president Mary Hall said Wednesday that the group might turn over to the city their decorations, which have decorated the Lake Loveland area since 1989, if they cannot secure a dependable funding source.
“If we don’t get funding … I will go over to the city and hand over the keys to the storage units (that hold the decorations),” Hall said. “What else can we do?”
The city of Loveland told members of the WHC, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, last month that city staff will not recommend their request for $13,500 in emergency funds for City Council approval. The group was also denied a request for money from the city’s Lodging Tax, which is used for tourism-boosting projects, according to their application.
Justine Bruno, assistant to the city manager, said the city’s process for accepting community applications for general fund dollars is competitive, as these requests are considered alongside general fund requests from city departments. High-priority requests are those that are mandated by contracts, laws, regulations or agreements, or that are safety necessities, and the WHC request ticked none of those boxes, she said.
Kelly Jones, director of the city’s Economic Development Department, said her staff was not involved in the request’s review, and did not give opinions on the impact of the WHC’s work on the city’s holiday season sales tax collections.
Though the request is not recommended by staff, the Winter Holiday Council money will still appear on a list of possible funding contenders in the draft 2019 city budget, which will be considered by City Council for the first time in September. The WHC at that time can again make the case for funding to council, but Hall was not optimistic.
Anne Wood, vice president and marketing for the Winter Holiday Council, holds the 2017 ornament Sept. 8, 2017. (Jenny Sparks / Loveland Reporter-Herald file photo)
“They didn’t listen last year,” she said.
The Winter Holiday Council started 30 years ago as a much larger group, but is now down to five members. In the spring and fall, those members frequently spend their Saturdays out at their rented decoration storage trailers to work on repairing decorations themselves, said WHC member Ron Schlattman.
Ironically, the WHC was originally founded due to a budget cut, as the city no longer wanted to be the sole arbiter of the Christmas decor, Hall said.
And, after the Loveland City Council voted eight years ago to stop automatically giving the group an annual allocation, the Winter Holiday Council’s only income has been from the annual sale of pewter ornaments. The council announced last month they are now offering people the ability to sponsor individual light poles annually erected around Lake Loveland.
“It’s just unbelievable the number of ornaments you have to sell to pull this off,” Schlattman said.
Beautifying the city is expensive work, and would require an infusion of $20,000-$30,000 a year to restore the Winter Holiday Council decorations to their former grandeur, Hall estimated. Installation alone costs $10,000 a year.
Comparatively, the group has just $700 in the bank now, Hall said.
The WHC is “limping along,” Schlattman said, and volunteer members are growing discouraged. There is very little money to store, install and repair decorations, let alone buy anything new.
“They just feel they’re not being supported by the city,” he said.
The $13,500 request was intended to address installation and repair of ornaments for a single Christmas season. Schlattman said the group uses the phrase “Winter Holiday” as a stand-in for Christmas.
“As you know, our request didn’t address the future needs of the Winter Holiday decorations,” Schlattman wrote in an email to council members. “The requested funding was what we felt was needed to sustain the effort for one more year.”
Two stand-up displays of carolers and a train cost the council $6,000 to repair last year, Schlattman said. The light poles around the lake cost $150 each just for installation and take-down, which requires a bucket truck, he said.
The council owns 28 light pole decorations, but has only been able to afford displaying half of them in recent years, Schlattman said. They used to light the poles around the lake, but that became cost-prohibitive, he said.
The WHC’s money struggles are not new. About 10-15 years ago, then-city manager Don Williams donated $15,000 to the group from his discretionary fund “because he felt sorry for them,” Schlattman said.
The city also used to let the group store the decorations in trailers on city land near the Loveland Recycling Center, but after the 2013 flood devastated that area, said they had to move them.
Hall, who has been with the council since it began, said she has stuck with it all these years due to the importance of Christmas in her religious beliefs. Her husband joined her in it, before he passed away.
“I’m there because I keep doing it,” she said. “And I’m about to my end of my ‘keep doing it’ if we can’t get somebody at the city to say, ‘We will help you.'”
Both Hall and Schlattman said they feel surrounding cities like Fort Collins, Berthoud and Milliken, though they have similar budget concerns as Loveland, have made funding holiday decor a higher priority.
If Loveland doesn’t start paying, she said the group will most likely dissolve.
“And if they don’t, I don’t know, I guess I’ll have a free December and have to find something to do,” she said.
Those wishing to support the Winter Holiday Council can buy a tree ornament online on the council’s website ( lovelandchristmasornament.org) or at the Loveland Fine Art Invitational Aug. 11-13.
Those wishing to volunteer can call Mary Hall at 970-663-7638.
Julia Rentsch: 970-699-5404, [email protected]