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Art funding may be in trouble

Following an exhausting 2 1/2 hour debate at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, arts and recreational interests still face another funding battle.

The City Council at about 9:30 p.m. approved dividing the promotional portion of the transient occupancy tax into segments of 75 percent and 25 percent. The city collects a 10-percent general tax from lodging revenue from which 2 percent has traditionally been allocated to promotions.

The council will still need to vote on specific language for a resolution.



Following the long discussion, some aspects remain uncertain.

Mayor Judy Brown cast the only no vote, stating not all her questions had been answered.




What is certain is that the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce have more stable funding than in the past, something the tourism-based business community has long sought.

In previous years, promotional funds were allocated from the 2 percent after other uses had been carved out.

“If we can know where the money is going to be and we can depend on it year after year, we’d all be better off,” said Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Board President Mike Weber.

For arts and recreational interests, the battle lies ahead to win a piece of the remaining 25 percent. The use of that portion is at the discretion of the council, after the airport subsidy is allotted. With the return of commercial air service to the airport, the subsidy is expected to decrease in the future and leave more dollars for other uses.

But not in the next fiscal year.

According to city manager Kerry Miller, the 25 percent of the 2 percent of the 10 percent transient occupancy tax is expected to amount to about $285,000 in the 1999-2000 fiscal year. After the airport subsidy is subtracted, only $40,000 remains for other uses, much less than councilmembers anticipated.

Most arts programs are now funded from the general fund and are not at issue, the council said. What is up for grabs is the arts coordinator position, now held by Phylise Walker.

Her position has been funded from the promotional pot. In June, the City Council elected to extend her contract only through September, rather than approving a raise to $42,200 that was proposed by staff.

Without an arts coordinator, the council was told during public discussion, a cultural arts facility, murals, public art and art education programs likely would all die out.

“Arts groups need an arts coordinator,” said art supporter Marvin Weitzenhoffer. “Anything that needs to be done wouldn’t happen without an arts coordinator. (Volunteers) don’t have the time.”

Councilman Hal Cole said that the subcommittee that made the 75/25 percent proposal believe arts – since it was not mentioned in the ordinance that created the 2 percent promotional fund – should be part of the general fund.

“Not that it shouldn’t be funded,” he said. “All we’re saying is, let’s guarantee how much is going to promotions and how much discretional funds the City Council can decide to allocate.”

Former Mayor Kevin Cole explained to the council and audience that the intent of the original ordinance was to include arts funding in promotions.

“The City Council at the time considered art a promotional activity,” he said.

“We were in dire budget straights (in the early 1990s) and still had the desire to fund an arts coordinator. If we don’t have an arts coordinator, we don’t have an arts program.”

Recreational interests also had a few things to say to the council, especially about development of an ice skating rink.

“People come in (to the Chamber) and ask what there is to do,” said Chamber Executive Director Duane Wallace. “They ask where is the ice rink, not if we have one.”

Yet, the architectural designs for an ice rink, alone, are expected to cost $75,000, far more than the leftover $40,000 from the 25 percent.

The problem of dividing a small portion of funds among so many uses, has left groups battling each other for survival.

“We’ve felt like we were 30 agencies in a sinking life raft with sharks circling,” Wallace said. “If we throw somebody over, maybe the sharks wouldn’t be hungry any more.”

Other funding options exist. The arts coordinator position could be placed somewhere in the general fund.

The ice rink could be tossed to the South Tahoe Alliance for Recreation, which is working on a ballot measure to fund ball fields and bike paths. “An ice rink is not out of our plans,” said El Dorado County Recreation Commissioner Steve Yonker, “but we would love it if the city would deal with the ice rink.

“There are finite dollars out there. If an ice rink is factored in (to the ballot funds), it may cut in half the dollars available for ball fields.”

So far, tourism promotions is the only interest secure in the promotional fund life raft. Arts and recreation are expected to state their cases again to the council.


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