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Millions spent on debate: State helped town with expenses associated with event

Q: How much money did Longwood and the town of Farmville spend on the debate? How much of it was tax dollars?

Though the town of Farmville spent about $170,000 in connection with the U.S. Vice Presidential Debate at Longwood University on Oct. 4, only about $37,600 came directly from the town’s coffers.

Longwood University estimates its total expenditures for the debate to range between $5-7 million, but said no student tuition money or public funds were used.

“We’ve got a few other bills coming in. A large portion of it is overtime,” Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates said, noting much of it was used for police department and public works staff.

Last winter, the Virginia General Assembly approved an amendment to the state’s 2016-18 biennial budget for $132,400 to aid the town in debate preparation and operation.

“There’s some numbers in there for police vehicles, you know, food to feed all the (public safety staff) … We did a lot of improvements on Main Street, you know, and the banners and stuff like that,” Spates said.

Though the estimated cost could increase, he said the town isn’t expecting any large bills to come due from the debate.

“I wouldn’t think any of them would be real big,” Spates said.

Justin Pope

Justin Pope

Gerald Spates

Gerald Spates

The requested state funds were outlined in the budget as one-time non-recurring funds, categorized under community development services.

Longwood University President Chief of Staff Justin Pope said final expenditures related to the debate are still coming into the university.

“While some costs, as well as some offsetting revenues from charges to the media, are still being finalized, we remain confident in that estimated range,” Pope said, of the $5-7 million figure.

Longwood’s expenditures include a production fee to the Commission on Presidential Debates, debate-related events, academic programming and public safety.

“Certain long-term investments in campus improvements and IT that were made in conjunction with the debate, or were sped up from previous plans to be ready by Oct. 4, are (being) treated separately,” Pope said.

As for tax dollars, Longwood neither requested nor received public funding for the debate, Pope said, “though the state police and other public agencies, as well as the town and Prince Edward County, were extremely supportive and helpful.”

The university’s debate budget came from Longwood’s cash reserves, Pope said, calling the reserves “essentially the university’s savings account, which is held as a rainy-day fund or for one-time investment opportunities to advance the mission of the university, of which the debate is a perfect example. Because the debate was funded this way, no existing university budgets were affected, nor were student tuition dollars used.”

According to Pope, Longwood’s annual operating budget is roughly $125 million.

“We also currently have roughly $150 million in capital projects under construction on campus. The investment in the debate was a substantial one, but not enormous in that overall context,” he said.

Calling the event “an extraordinary success,” Pope said the long-term value for Longwood “will be beyond measure. We are still working to calculate a precise estimate of the advertising and media value associated with the coverage of the event, but that figure is expected to be well in excess of $75 million.”