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Debt strains Cambodian New Year celebration

Written By vibykhmer on Thursday, April 2, 2009 | 5:43 AM

The Cambodian New Year parade on Anaheim Street in Long Beach is still on track for Sunday. But a celebration set for April 25 may be in jeopardy. The organizer of the two events is $40,000 in debt. Festivities from 2007 are pictured. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

By Greg Mellen Staff Writer
Long Beach Press Telegram (California, USA)

LONG BEACH - Regardless of the weather, the Cambodian New Year parade will step off Sunday attempting to clear a financial fog that surrounds the annual event.

Just last week, the Cambodian Coordinating Council, which organizes the annual parade and a separate New Year's celebration at El Dorado Park on April 25, put the finishing touches on a multi-year payment plan to make up a shortfall of about $40,000. The group has already made a $5,000 payment.

How organizers ended up $40,000 in debt for an event that costs about $40,000 in city fees and for which there are sponsors, fundraising, and - in the case of the El Dorado Park event, a hefty admission charge - depends on whom one asks.

And then there are the looming costs.

In the wake of the economic downturn, leaders of this year's parade and celebration say they are somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 short of the money they need.

Although the parade is good to go, the April 25 celebration is still in limbo, although leaders assure it will happen.

Much of the parade and celebration leadership this year is new and the group says these board members are bringing new vitality and business acumen to the group. They are promising to open their books and be "transparent," but not quite yet.

Parade organizers say the city boosted its fees for the event last year from about $25,000 to $40,000 and they never recovered. Some say the city never adequately explained why the costs rose so sharply or gave them fair warning.

David Ashman, manager of special events in the city, said in the first few years of the parade the city "capped" its fees. Also, then-6th District City Councilwoman Laura Richardson's office was able to provide help and the parade had several major donors, including Sound Energy Solutions, which has left Long Beach.

"We capped city costs and absorbed costs to help them get on their feet," Ashman said of the first three years. "It was a different time and we could afford to do that."

With the city's burgeoning budget deficit, Ashman says the city can no longer take on those costs, especially in areas such as public safety, public works and traffic management.

"We're under a directive to recover the full costs for those," Ashman said.

Still, the question of how a $15,000 increase in costs translates into a $40,000 deficit is unclear.

Late last year, the city began negotiating the debt with the Cambodian Coordinating Council and settled on the current payment plan.

Some organizers said they had to keep some money in their account for operating expenses and emergencies and they are still working on the books to figure out where the rest went.

Others say money had to be paid up front to put on this year's parade and celebration.

Ashman says about $13,000 has been paid in advance for a traffic vendor and other costs.

Anthony Kim, who is now heading finances, says about $20,000 has been raised this year.

When asked if he worries the celebration may not happen, Kim is adamant.

"It never crossed my mind," Kim says.

Kim and others on the finance committee are trying to raise the needed money and promise they'll get there.

One initiative they are particularly hopeful about is the One Dollar Donation Campaign. They say if every resident went online to their Web site, www.cam-cc.org, and donated $1, the group would be flush.

The cost of putting on the events this year was originally estimated at $44,000, but the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine has waived a number of rental and application fees and helped organizers find a variety of cost-cutting measures that reduce the bill.

Also, post-parade activities have been moved from MacArthur Park to an empty Redevelopment Agency lot on Anaheim Street and Walnut Avenue to pare costs.

Phylypo Tum said the new board debated whether to drop the parade because of the added costs, but couldn't do it.

"The board decided we owe it to the community. We said, `We'll stick together no matter what it costs."' Tum said.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291


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