Julia Roberts Goad
PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Pike County Judge Executive Wayne T. Rutherford says the Hillbilly Days festival was founded to raise money for crippled children, but that now that money is going to “companies and corporations.”
Hillbilly Days is scheduled for April 18 - 20 this year, and brings 100,000 people to Pikeville.
At a recent meeting of the Pike County Fiscal Court, Rutherford said the Fiscal Court founded the festival in 1977 to raise money for the Shriners Hospitals for Children. But, Judge Rutherford said, it soon grew too much for the County to operate. At that time, the Pike County Chamber of Commerce took over the festival.
In 2011, the Pike County Chamber became the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, including Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, and Pike Counties, and continues to present Hillbilly Days.
Proceeds from the festival are divided between the Shriners and the Chamber.
The Daily News spoke with Jared Arnett, President/CEO of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber, about Hillbilly Days.
“We have had an agreement with the Shriners for over 25 years,” Arnett said. “Under our management, Hillbilly Days has grown to be the second largest festival in Kentucky, second only to Kentucky Derby days. They are satisfied with how we manage the festival.”
“We proudly support the Shriners. In 2011, we presented them with a check for $72,000, last year we gave them $82,000. Since 2000, we have donated over $714,000.”
But Rutherford says the Fiscal Court pays out money to the Festival, for services such as portable toilets and garbage disposal, and that the Chamber only profits.
“We provide garbage bags, dumpsters, and we don’t get reimbursed for that,” he said. “They get reimbursed, and folks, they don’t need it. They represent companies and corporations. They have money.”
He said the City of Pikeville is reimbursed for their expenses toward Hillbilly Days, as is Utility Management Group, which operates Mountain Water and provides services for the festival, but that the county’s expenses are not reimbursed.
Rutherford also voiced objections to the way the festival is operated.
“You can’t buy shuck beans anymore, or fish fried,” he said. “They have run all the local vendors off, and charge up to $450 for those spaces.”
Chamber President Arnett said the Chamber is a non-profit organization, and is audited every year, and as a community organization contribute to the county.
“We have an education endowment fund we gave to three Pike County schools last year, a Work Ethic Award that is a $500 cash scholarship to high school seniors,” Arnett said. “We help local companies expand and recruit new industries to the area, and are spearheading efforts to bring air service to our area. When the Chamber grows, everyone grows.”
But Judge Rutherford says the Chamber should give their portion of the proceeds from Hillbilly Days to the Shriners.
“They need to do the right thing,” he said. “We need to work to get them to understand. This group are leaders in our community. They need to give that money to the crippled children.”