After postponing a vote on the 2014 fiscal year budget last week to size up potential scenarios, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to decrease arts funding in next year’s budget. It wasn’t as severe a cut as was proposed. The tentative 2014 fiscal year budget called for a decrease of $1.4 million in arts funding, down to $3.6 million, but $750,000 of that was restored for the next six months. It appears, however, that arts administrators will have to rally support to get that same amount of money placed into the next budget.
Yesterday’s special meeting was called when the commissioners realized at last Wednesday’s meeting that they simply could not decide on a final 2014 budget.
Instead of going line-item through the budget Monday, the commission eventually voted on the overall budget as a whole and approved it by a 5 to 2 margin, with commissioners Rob Pitts and Liz Hausmann opposing. The proposal does make one major change — readjusting the schedule so that the Arts and Culture Department will be funded moving forward on a calendar year instead of a fiscal one. Details of that are still being worked out, according to Darryl Carver, Chairman John Eaves’ director of external affairs.
Other areas are taking a hit as well. The budget also includes decreases to areas in Human Services. Metro area libraries, other than the central Atlanta offices, will now close on Fridays. Cuts to Grady were approved as well, although not as much as what was initially suggested. The 2014 budget also includes a millage rate increase of 1.57 mills, the first increase in more than a decade.
Discussions about the budget lasted all morning, with commissioners repeatedly firing questions at the finance department. As the meeting began, Eaves acknowledged that there had been some great strides in reaching a compromise over the last few days, but there was going to have to be some “give and take.” “I love my libraries, but everyone is going to have to give a little bit,” he said.
Hausmann grilled the finance department about specific reductions. “We are reducing libraries, DFACS, the arts, the workforce, but we are giving raises and paying out vacations?” she said. She also was not pleased with the potential of higher taxes and the fact that the county is building new libraries at a time when they are faced with reducing hours and staff in others.
At last week’s meeting, several arts leaders spoke to the commissioners about the importance of the arts and the economic impact to the area, including Horizon Theatre’s Lisa Adler and Theatric Outfit’s Tom Key. Adler was among the arts administrators present yesterday, as was Rachel May, producing artistic director of Synchronicity Theatre. May thinks the biggest challenge ahead is to get money reinstated for the future. “It sounds like we are going to have to fight to get it restored for next year,” she said. “To get restored for next year is going to be a fight to get money back in the budget, which is a much harder fight.”
Adler, Horizon Theatre’s co-artistic director and producing director, concurred. “We will need to regain $750,000 for next year when we go through the budget cycle,” she said. “That will be the big challenge.”
The Fulton County Arts Council provides funds for arts organizations throughout the county, including the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, High Museum of Art, the Center for Puppetry Arts and many more. Last August, arts administrators showed up en masse and convinced the commissioners to restore a proposed arts cut.
Eaves is disappointed in the cuts but said Fulton County remains behind the arts.
“Fulton County has always been a strong champion and a staunch supporter of the arts,” Eaves told ArtsATL after the meeting. “I have also been a supporter of the arts. We have maintained funding for certain contracts for services; we fund about 100 arts organizations each year. That money has been put back into the budget for the next six months. So the arts community should feel good about that.”
He said the cuts to the arts were “modest” in nature. “The main thing is, we are still supporters of the arts,” he said. “We are champions of the arts. For the most part, even though there were some cuts in the arts as in many other areas of the county government, we are still sustaining the arts at a level that I think our constituents and particularly the arts community will find more than satisfactory.”
The commissioner’s website says, “The arts continue to receive funding from the county at a level higher than even the state of Georgia’s contribution.”
That, however, is faint praise. According to a study last year by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the state ranks dead last in government arts support. Government funding for the arts last year in Georgia was just $574,268, a mere 6 cents per resident. Alabama, with a population half the size of Georgia’s, gave out $1 million more in arts grants, or 70 cents per person. Texas parceled out 11 cents per Lone Star State resident. The only state more tightfisted than Georgia is Arizona, which distributes no arts funding at all. (Arizona does, however, dedicate nearly $1.4 million for the arts through business license fees.)