Thursday, June 26, 2008

City Council Rethinks Arts Funding

Mayor casts deciding vote to OK $14,575 to Arts Commission

By Nao Braverman
If Ojai is to be defined as an arts community as many locals claim, then the city must do its part to maintain that reputation, council members agreed at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
After some deliberation, council members unanimously approved an amendment to the city budget, granting the Ojai Arts Commission the entire funding that it requested for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
“The value of art is intangible, but it has an effect on property value, on who lives here, who comes here, who spends money here and who stays here,” said local resident Roberta Raye.
Although the council had recently agreed not to provide funding for outside agencies until the reserve budget was back intact, the Arts Commission should not be considered an outside agency, council members decided. The city commission is a city’s responsibility, and without proper funding, the commission cannot fulfill its purpose, said Mayor Sue Horgan.
The discussion closed on an indecisive note at a prior council meeting, with Councilwomen Rae Hanstad and Carol Smith staunchly in favor of granting the Arts Commission the funds it requested, and Councilmen Joe DeVito and Steve Olsen wary of loosening their former pact of fiscal caution, without approving a new policy agreement, that would allow them to give some funds to other organizations as well as the Arts Commission.
But Horgan, the tiebreaker, sided with Hanstad and Smith this week.
“You all know I am a fiscally conservative person and I don’t like to let go of my purse strings,” said Horgan. “But I believe the Arts Commission is a city agency and we need to take care of city responsibilities first.”
Since it is part of the Arts Commission’s assigned duty to allocate grants to deserving art projects in the community, the commission should receive the necessary funding to fulfill its given function, she explained.
Olsen, who described himself as generally more on the fiscally liberal side, said he was looking to have a policy in place so that the city could be more generous with deserving outside agencies. But perhaps the Arts Commission, allocated to funnel money to outside arts agencies through grants, could be the perfect model for such a policy, he said. The Parks and Recreation Commission could, in the same fashion, give funds to organizations such as Youth Employment Services, a needy outside organization, through a similar grant program.
“It looks like we do have a policy already,” he said, agreeing to vote in favor of giving the Arts Commission the funding it was asking for.
DeVito was the last to agree.
“It puts me between a rock and a hard place, making this decision,” he said. “The thing that bothers me extremely is if (Youth Employment Services) or any other outside organizations had any idea that we were going to fund anything until our budget was in place, then they would have been here too.”
But Horgan retorted that the Arts Commission is not an outside organization but a city organization, and although the grant money might be funneled through the commission to outside organizations, that was just one of the commission’s given functions.
A number of citizens and Arts Commission members attested to the fact that those grants fund popular local entertainment venues and festivities like the Ojai Music Festival, the Ojai Film Festival and Theater 150, all which bring in much-needed tourist dollars.
Demitri Corbin, Arts Commission member and founder of the Peach Tree Theater Company, added that some of the funding would go toward sustaining educational arts programs within the school district, an important goal in these trying times.
A motion was made to amend the budget to allocate $14,575 to the Arts Commission instead of the $6,000 initially budgeted. That includes the commission’s request of $11,575, $7,000 of which will be reallocated to other organizations in the form of arts grants. An additional $3,000 was added to the total, for repainting the walls and refurbishing the lighting in the City Hall’s art gallery space.
DeVito agreed to the motion, after a long suspenseful pause, and the amendment was approved unanimously.
Earlier at the meeting, Judy Gabriel, a member of Skate Ojai, another outside organization in need of funds, asked for more clarity from the city on the prospective site for the future skate park. With $293,348 already in the bag, Skate Ojai plans to build a permanent in-ground concrete park, said Gabriel. Rumors that the intended school district site was not as secure as initially hoped for seemed to be affecting the fund-raising process, she added.
Horgan said that the council would not be prepared to make any statements until they had all the details. Although those details were initially to be analyzed at the regular council meeting on July 8, city manager Jere Kersnar said that city staff would not yet be prepared for such a meeting at that time and he would have to schedule a special meeting at a later date.
In other council news, a 5 percent increase of the city manager’s annual salary was unanimously approved, bringing his total earnings to $159,954.03.
“The city manager, of course, received a stellar review,” said Hanstad, who served on the deciding committee with Horgan.
Later at the meeting a new parcel map dividing the property at 310, 312, 316 E. Matilija St. and 207 N. Montgomery St., formerly Clausen Funeral Home and currently the location of Theater 150, into four parcels was approved unanimously. The four new lots house the new theater location as well as some residences in the back. Council members applauded property owner Jim Exon on his new parcel map, which would help keep the downtown lots small and affordable while protecting the property from large-scale commercial development.
Also at the meeting the council heard the first reading of a draft ordinance which would give qualified historic properties tax incentives to foster the preservation of privately owned, historic residential and commercial properties.
Under the 1972 Mills Act, cities and counties can enter into contracts with private property owners who actively restore and maintain their historic properties in exchange for tax relief. The tax savings is supposed to make it easier for property owners to restore and renovate historic buildings. The owners must agree to work on the improvement of their property for at least 10 years in order to get the incentive. Participants save between 40 to 60 percent on taxes each year. The ordinance, drafted by the city attorney, will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at its July 16 meeting along with a public hearing on the subject.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the Arts Commission could be an all-volunteer, non-city funded organization which could conduct its own fundraising efforts.
Spending city money on an art's commission seens foolhardy to me because the city is in such dire financial straits.
I agree that Ojai needs to maintain its reputation as an arts center, but isn't there some other way to do it?