New Tool Helps City Track Special Events Costs 

From left, Gulfport’s Cultural Facilities Events Supervisor Justin Shea and City Manager Jim O’Reilly collaborate using the new spreadsheet analysis tool for special events that is allowing them to form more detailed strategic partnerships with sponsors and promoters.

It’s a given that Gulfport is known as a party city but at what cost to the $12.2 million annual budget? Exactly where does the money go?

For special events, when the city traditionally provides in-kind services to promoters such as sanitation and parks staff or air-conditioned space at the Casino or theater properties, what do these items mean in terms of payroll and rental dollars?

The cost of all special events is a little over 1 percent of the total annual budget, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. “Council members would be remiss if they didn’t look at that. They wanted the ability to look deeper.”

Now, council and city staff can do just that thanks to a new digital analysis tool created by Cultural Facilities Events Supervisor Justin Shea.

In the summer of 2016, council said they wanted more detail regarding the costs associated with special events. Though Shea’s traditional and detailed paper records are still in use as a backup, the city is transitioning to a spreadsheet tool for the 2018 budget year that can quickly provide financial calculations like topical category totals and percent of total budget, said O’Reilly.

Introduced at the July 18, 2017 council meeting using data from the current budget year, the spreadsheet can also accommodate date scheduling in Microsoft Outlook email calendars, said Shea.

“The idea when I first came to work for the city 14 years ago was to help businesses put people on the street,” said O’Reilly. “Well, we’ve accomplished that! Now, we’ve reached a point of saturation and we have evolved.”

Granular cost analysis and strategic calendar planning will allow the city to save money and schedule staff time more effectively so employees can plan for time off, said O’Reilly.

Among other things, the spreadsheet identifies dollar values for barricades, advertising, fireworks and payroll for parks and sanitation staff, said Shea.

For some time, the city has been requiring sponsors and promoters to pay a flat rate payroll cost for police, paramedic and fire services, when needed, said O’Reilly.

For instance, “if there is alcohol involved in an event, we ask the promoter or sponsor to pay for police to cover public safety costs,” said O’Reilly. “If it’s something with health risks like a 5K run, we ask that they pay for special rescue personnel” like the paramedics from the fire department.

In the future, sponsors and promoters from out-of-town may need to tie their events to local Gulfport non-profit organizations or businesses, said O’Reilly. Special events backers may also need to provide their own staff or volunteers, in whole or in part, for things like set up that have traditionally been provided totally by city staff free of charge.

Additionally, a penalty fee might be charged to do a late add to the annual special events calendar once it has been approved by the council, said O’Reilly. This will inspire advanced planning.

“The 50 percent number is a good place to start” for reducing in-kind costs, said Mayor Sam Henderson at the July 18 council meeting.

Gulfport is now putting a greater emphasis on forming strategic partnerships with special events sponsors and promoters – with the goals of significantly reducing the city’s in-kind costs, eliminating event duplicity to increase revenues regarding weekend space rentals and to set an annual calendar for planning purposes, said O’Reilly.

Special events for the 2018 fiscal year will once again be a part of the agenda for council at their August 15 meeting, said O’Reilly.

View a model of the 2017 fiscal year special events spreadsheet analysis tool here.



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