Will our 'cultural element' be just a passing fancy? | In our opinion | Nov. 13

The city’s current financial free-fall (have we hit bottom yet?) already has been injurious to many programs that became somewhat dependent on city funds during the good times – arguably none more than the Bainbridge Island Arts & Humanities Council.

BIAHC, which serves as the distributor of city dollars to many valued cultural organizations and activities in the community, had its annual allotment reduced drastically from $363,000 in 2008 to $136,125 in 2009. The 2010 “endorsed budget” suggested funding $326,158 but the current proposed budget is back to the 2009 amount of $136,125.

Morgan Smith, BIAHC’s new executive director, decries the city’s decision to prolong the pain next year after making an inequitable reduction in the 2009 budget. She says the organization needs around $259,000 in 2010 to ensure a “cultural element,” that in many ways is a critical economic engine for the community, doesn’t become unsustainable. She’s right; it would be a serious mistake to allow one of the island’s most important and healthy components to flounder.

But what to do? The city has an unsustainable financial model and needs to make deep cuts just to make sure it provides the basics – police protection and infrastructure – for its residents. And this isn’t campaign rhetoric; it’s the cold, hard facts. For example, while the city has been catering to the many wishes of its constituents, it ignored the deteriorating condition of its roads and utility pipes. Now it doesn’t have any reserves.

It’s almost as if Bainbridge had one of those “perfect storm” debacles, but this isn’t the time to dwell on the past. The city government and the community needs to engage in open dialogue regarding several critical issues, and our “cultural element” is one of them. Is the city undervaluing the sector’s importance to the community? Is the difference between $259,000 and $136,000 just a drop in the bucket compared to the damage it may cause? How can we keep it going with fewer city dollars? Can the community come up with an alternative plan? And, most critically, will the council be openly involved?

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