Proposed cut in city grants worries business, art leaders

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2000

The city's plan to grant less money this year to a variety of community organizations brought forth reaction from those organizations at a Finance Committee meeting this week.

``Five percent'' was the operative -- and objectionable -- phrase for the Perseverance Theatre, the Alaska Conservatory Theatre and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

The Juneau Economic Development Council's grant prospects are even gloomier. It is looking at a cut of 50 percent.

Assembly member Jim Powell tried to dull the edge of the ax early in the meeting Wednesday by moving to fully fund Perseverance Theatre. ``They need the money for (grant) leveraging,'' he said. ``They reach a lot of people, a lot of kids.''

The move was defeated 5-3 and followed with a stern direction from Finance Committee Chairman Dwight Perkins that final grant funding decisions be left for the end of the city's budget process, when it can be determined how much money is left from other city programs.

Perseverance Theatre's request -- coupled with Alaska Conservatory Theatre's -- totaled $41,000 for each of the next two fiscal years. The city manager's reply was $38,000, which means ``we'll have to decrease programming,'' said Perseverance spokeswoman Mary Ellison.

Ellison followed her bid for full funding with a call for talks about possible city involvement in an endowment that would free the city from the burden of contributions in the future, she said.

A 5 percent budget cutback for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council would not necessarily mean program reductions, according to council Executive Director Sybil Davis. ``I'm not going to say we'd cut a scholarship or outreach. But it would put a lot more stress on our office.''

The council is staffed by ``1 and 3/4'' people, she said, and programs have a large impact on the community in general, on students and on tourists.

``People don't seem to understand the scope and depth of the work the formal arts body for the capital is involved in,'' she said. ``There's a very important quality of life issue, here.''

The council's request for fiscal 2001 is for $60,000.

The JEDC's fiscal 2001 budget request of $118,750 could be cut to $62,500; its fiscal 2002 request of $100,000 to $25,000.

``I felt we were a kind of Coalition for Quality of Life, out there,'' said JEDC Acting Executive Director Kirk Flanders, referring to his and other grant applicants' presentations.

Flanders' presentation cited the JEDC's continuing business and job creation during its existence -- 104 businesses and 437 jobs.

Following the presentation, the JEDC came under fire from two assembly members -- from Mayor Dennis Egan for not living up to its promise a half-dozen years ago to become fiscally independent from the city within three years, and from assembly member Tom Garrett for insufficiently promoting Juneau development.

The discussion did end on an up note, however, when Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon -- citing difficult economic times ahead for the city -- proposed better treatment for the JEDC. ``I'm proposing we make their cut not quite as severe,'' he said. ``Keep it at least at six figures.''

Flanders observed Friday that ``our local elected officials are, in fact, in charge of our quality of life. It's a loose concept that always fosters discussion,'' he said.

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