UPDATE: Pittsylvania County bills Blue Ridge Rock Festival organizers over $330K for planned, unplanned expenses

Southside Virginia News

UPDATE 5:11 p.m.: Purpose Driven Events — the organizer who received a bill for more than $337,000 from Pittsylvania County following the Blue Ridge Rock Festival and the Worship at the Mountain Festival in September — shared a statement with WFXR News about the festival invoices.

Purpose Driven Events will pay all costs actually accrued by the county. We are examining the specifics of all charges, and are working to ensure that this matter is resolved to mutual satisfaction. The County is still holding six figures in liquid cash that we provided to them directly. The amount they are holding more than supersedes the amount we have been billed. Blue Ridge Rock Festival has already made an impact of over $23 million on the local municipality this year through a seven figure investment in local businesses, nearly a million dollars in hotel reservations, as well as substantial tax revenue, permitting fees, over 1,300 employees or contractors, and overall commerce generated from bringing tens of thousands to the local area.

Statement from Purpose Driven Events on Oct. 12, 2021

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — After thousands of people descended upon the Blue Ridge Amphitheater in September for two music festivals — including the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, which turned into something of a nightmare, according to many attendees — Pittsylvania County sent a bill to event organizers for more than $337,000.

As allowed by the county’s music festival ordinance, Pittsylvania County officials say they billed Purpose Driven Events $337,592.29 for all costs incurred during the Worship at the Mountain festival over Labor Day weekend, as well as the Blue Ridge Rock Festival from Sept. 9-12.

Many of the county’s costs – such as EMS, Public Safety, the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office, and permit fees – were reportedly planned.

However, according to a statement released by the county on Tuesday, Oct. 12, “many billed costs were unplanned and occurred due to insufficient performance from Purpose Driven Events’ vendors. Beginning the second morning of the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, Purpose Driven Events requested that Pittsylvania County take over all operations outside of the festival grounds, including transportation services, sanitation, and traffic control. The County remained in control for the remainder of the festival.”

Excluding meal taxes, officials say the final $337,592.29 invoice sent to Purpose Driven Events included invoices on behalf of several organizations that provided assistance at the county’s request, such as FCS Inc., Danville Public Schools, the Danville Police Department, Danville Public Works, and Pittsylvania County Public Schools.

The goal for each of these organizations’ invoices was to ensure all costs were covered and that Pittsylvania County taxpayers incurred no event-related expense, according to the county.

You can review all of the invoices billed to the event promoter — which are due by Oct. 28 — by clicking here.

According to officials, a number of fire/rescue volunteers and off-duty professionals from various agencies and departments were compensated for time worked at the event, which means Purpose Driven Events was invoiced for all such costs.

In total, the county says the company was billed more than $150,000 for additional employee income. Meanwhile, other employees working the event were not personally compensated, but the county did bill for these individuals’ efforts that served only to benefit the promoter.

A number of Pittsylvania County’s top law enforcement and administrative officials also provided services to Purpose Driven Events during the festival weekend, but did not personally benefit from their work. 

“Before the festival began, I spent many hours working on administrative tasks related to the festival that fall under my normal job duties, and these costs were not billed to the promoter,” stated Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman. “However, just as it would not be fair to the taxpayers for our public safety department or sheriff’s office to work this kind of event without being compensated by the promoter, it would not be appropriate for me to spend nearly 60 hours helping to manage a private event without Pittsylvania County recouping those costs. It is not typical for a county administrator to have such a hands-on role in managing so many of the logistics for a private event like this, which is why we have billed Purpose Driven Events for my time.” 

“Mr. Smitherman came to the festival site because of the issues that were being reported about the inadequacy of the operational management of the festival,” Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor said. “On Friday morning of the Rock festival event, Mr. Smitherman called for a meeting with promoters and the contractors. The Virginia State Police, along with myself and many other agencies, were in attendance to address unacceptable issues with the festival’s operations. Jonathan Slye spoke to the fact that some of his contractors had just simply walked away from their responsibilities or failed in the duties to the event. Mr. Smitherman organized local providers, at the promoter’s additional expense, for transportation issues, waste management issues and lighting issues with VDOT and others to get the event back on a manageable footing. Mr. Smitherman maintained a physical presence to help anyway he could to address concerns from our citizens with operational missteps by the promoter’s contractors. Mr. Smitherman had continuous meetings with the promoters and their staff to ensure things were getting accomplished as was promised by Purpose Driven Events as well as requesting input from county and state agencies.”

“As managers of Pittsylvania County’s budget, this Board strives to be fiscally responsible in every way. With the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, we worked with the event promoter and county staff to ensure that this event did not cost our taxpayers,” said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. “Many of our staff, as well as staff of other area organizations and government agencies, worked diligently over the weekend to alleviate some of the issues facing the event and ensure the safety of all attendees and our citizens. Due to the long hours and the scope of work that went well out of the normal job description of many of these people, we invoiced the promoter to recoup these costs. Even after some early difficulties, this event would not have been as successful as it was without the tireless work of many in our organization, ranging from our Sheriff and County Administrator to our solid waste team.”

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