The Bluegrass and Chili Festival’s recent request before the City Council for continued financial backing should have been routine business. It wasn’t.

Instead festival organizers were sent back to their Chamber of Commerce Board Room and told to be more “accountable.”

Sounds like a controversy brewing.

It shouldn’t be so.

Someone on the City Council or from the Chamber of Commerce should walk — no run — the two blocks separating the two offices

and find out what can be done to keep this pot of chili from getting any hotter.

Reasonable minds understand the City Council is right to ask any group or individual requesting taxpayer dollars to quantify and qualify the benefit to the city derived from any expenditure and to account for every tax dollar spent.

But hard fast guidelines for the new, yet-to-be published application-for-funds procedure are not yet in place. The fund request policy and procedures will not approved by Council for the 2007-2008 budget until some time after the first of the year, according to City Hall. Apparently the Bluegrass and Chili Festival will be the first test case.

While everyone waits for new policy to be put into place there is not need to cast a shadow on this operation’s accountability after six years of proven value to Claremore — especially when the city’s own finance director is counting the money.

The fact that festival organizers are just approaching the point where they can close out the books on the recent September event is not unusual in the festival world — especially when success or failure year after year depends on the goodwill of sponsors, vendors and volunteers.

Still, festival organizers can’t assume the city is going to dole out dollars without accountability. It’s not unreasonable to ask for an annual break-even budget scenario, a plan of action and full knowledge of the liability limits. That’s fiscal responsibility on the part of the Council.

The Bluegrass and Chili Festival attracts in the neighborhood of 25,000 to 30,000 people on an annual basis to Claremore’s Expo Center grounds. People travel here from several states in the nation and foreign countries as well. It is the single-largest tourism event in the city, bringing with it the side benefits of quality of life, community cohesiveness and, believe it or not, a much needed economic boost for area businesses and the ensuing city sales tax coffers.

If the hotel/motel tax reports for the last three years are any indication, the Bluegrass Festival coupled with other growing area entertainment venues are making a difference to the city’s bottom line. Revenue continues to trend upward: 2004, $5,675.13 was collected; 2005, $5,903.26; 2006, $7,643.28.

Right now, the city’s role in the Bluegrass and Chili Festival calls for a commitment of around $150,000 front money and an agreement to pick up the difference if festival revenue falls short of the tab. In the last couple of years that tab has been in around $10,000 to $15,000.

That’s a small price to pay for having one of the nation’s premier bluegrass festivals in your own front yard for a two- or three-day run.

The way it works: The city is basically just the bank and facilities owner. The real work is done by festival coordinators led by Davis and staffers at the Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau (they earn no additional pay for festival work), Festival Committee members and a long, long list of around 300 volunteers who hours of their own time signing up vendors, booking talent, seek sponsorships, working the gates, making sure the toilets are clean and even cleaning up the trash afterwards.

In just the last year, the city has spent nearly $20,000 for a community fireworks display, given $14,000 to the Sister City Program and $35,000 to the Wild West Arts Club. Surely $10,000 or $20,000 for a bluegrass festival of this caliber is a reasonable investment.

Come on. Don’t break any more banjo strings over this one. Share a bowl of chili and work it out.