Council's budget cuts irk arts community

Arts supporters hold signs in protest during Tuesday
Arts supporters hold signs in protest during Tuesday's budget hearing at City Hall.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

The Bainbridge City Council’s decision two weeks ago to cut more than $700,000 in community service funding from its 2011-12 preliminary budget drew sharp criticism this week, especially from supporters of the island’s arts culture and Bainbridge Island Television.

The majority of the 16 people who spoke during Wednesday’s public hearing on the budget expressed concerns either about how the reduced city funding would cripple the city’s flourishing arts community or diminish their “right to know” with the potential loss of BITV’s public access programming.

While BITV was given notice two weeks ago that its contract would be terminated in 60 days, it appears that the city is open to the nonprofit station still having a role – likely a limited one – in providing public access to the community.

Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer said staff is “researching a variety of options for you (council members) and a number of ways to have content on the channel beyond the council meetings.” She said that her deputy, Morgan Smith, will update the council Wednesday and that negotiations with BITV are a possibility.

Hardest hit by the budget cuts was the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council, which also received funding ($150,000) it funneled to the 10 or so arts and humanities organizations that have helped give Bainbridge a reputation as a cultural destination.

Unless the council changes it mind, all of the funding for the organizations will disappear, as will $95,00 BIAHC hoped to receive for its contribution to the cultural element ($60,000) and for managing programs for the city ($35,000).

Cheryl Dale, who was hired as BIAHC’s interim executive director earlier this month, said her organization will survive but she worries about venerable island institutions such Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, Bainbridge Performing Arts, KiDiMu, Ovation!, The Music Guild, the Bainbridge Chorale, Bainbridge Island Historical Museum and others.

“Our board is trying to figure out how to helping during a really tough time,” Dale said Wednesday.

“We need to protect them because they are an integral part of our community,” she said, “but also because they bring in revenue. So now, the council’s saying, ‘We still expect you guys to bring revenue without our support,’ which I think is a very risky approach.”

Dale said donations and grants will be needed to keep the organizations afloat, and both of those sources are tentative because of timing and the increased need for human services on the island.

“We realize the city is making some tough choices, and not unlike the choices some donors will be making,” she said. “They will be giving more to human services than to arts. We understand, but it has to be remembered that we also return money to the city. That’s going to be harder now.”

Susan Jackson, executive director of BAC, said the elimination of all city funding could threaten the existence of several organizations that have been around half a century.

“That zero means you don’t care about the arts, that it’s a frivolous frill,” she said. “But it’s more than that. We are the heart of this town. We take the little bit of money you give us and we give it back many times over. And we matter to this community. How you do this is your decision, but we have to go to work tomorrow with the obligation of being the soul of Bainbridge Island. Don’t forget that, please.”

Meanwhile, the city continues its cuts in an effort to reduce the gap between Bauer’s proposed budget and the council’s policy goal of having $2.4 million in reserves at the end of 2011.

The council still needs to cut about $343,000 out of the budget after slicing approximately $300,000 out of it Wednesday. The council proposed:

• Approving a reduction of half of the $150,000 fire prevention line item for the Bainbridge Island Fire District by asking the district to pay half of it;

• Eliminating the position of performance manager, which would place more than $100,000 back into the budget;

• Moving $120,000 out of the $400,000 fund for litigation and use of outside attorneys into the contingency fund.

As had happened in the two previous budget meetings, there was a motion – by Debbi Lester this time – to make additional reductions from the city staff. But her motion to reduce the operational cost by 7 percent was rebuffed by a 4-3 majority (Bill Knobloch and Kim Brackett also in support), which reiterated its preference to have the city manager address that issue rather than have the council make “nondescript across-the-board reductions” of staff, as Councilor Barry Peters put it.

Besides BITV, the council plans to address the budget’s capital facilities plan and city utilities during its next budget meeting, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 2.

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