Manassas Journal Messenger | County eyes new system to fund the arts

As a new mechanism to fund art organizations takes hold, Prince William County staff will examine each applicant vying for a budget line item “just as we would with all other donation agencies.”

That’s according to Melissa Peacor, assistant county executive, who explained the arts funding mechanism to county supervisors on Tuesday.

The county has donated money in the past to arts organizations, including the Arts Council, the Prince William Symphony and the Center for the Arts.

Vpstart Crow, a performing arts group, requested that the board give them $26,000 directly, bypassing a standard grant application proceedure through the Arts Council.

Realizing confusion surrounding the direct donation, supervisors charged county staff with creating a proceedure to authorize the Arts Council to distribute grant money to different arts groups in the county.

Peacor explained that process Tuesday, during the supervisors’ only August meeting.

She said that arts groups, such as choral or quilting groups, no matter the size, can apply to the Arts Council, the steward of this year’s $144,381 that the county donated.

Through the Arts Council, art groups can apply for competitive grants or operational grants.

After three consecutive years of receiving an operational grant, Peacor said the group would be eligible to apply for stability funding, a sort of line item in the county’s annal budget.

The Arts Council would determine how much money each group receives and when they get it.

Peacor added that the amount given to Arts Council for distribution would increase by 2 percent in 2005-2006. In 2007-2008, the amount would increase by 2.5 percent. Both increases are dependent on the board of supervisors’ final approval.

Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III, R-Gainesville, indicated uneasiness about stability funding, asking how art groups, once given budget line items, could be disqualified, if necessary.

He worried what would happen if constituents didn’t see the benefit of tax money funding art groups or if they asserted that “the government should not be philanthropic to charitable organizations.”

“It could be never ending,” Wilbourn said.

Peacor assured supervisors that accountability and performance standards would be upheld to ensure that money doled out to arts organizations would be examined under close watch.

County Executive Craig Gerhart also said that arts groups that qualify for a new method of funding would not have unlimited access to the county’s checkbook.

“There is no open-ended blank check here. The board is free to do what you want for that,” Gerhart said, referring to the supervisors’ ability to limit funding to any and all steady donations.

“There is not anything that says what you could to to eliminate them from the list and there should be,” said Wilbourn, who said he’s interested in more rules that would govern the funding process.

Supervisors did not have to formally approve the staff recommendation for the new arts funding mechanism.

Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large, chariman of the supervisors, said that “contention” surrounding the funding process surprised him.

“We probably spend more money on county toilet paper than we do on arts funding,” he said.

Since 1999, the county’s arts funding has doubled.

The Prince William Symphony has received $35,000 for the past four years, with a $1,000 increase in the 2004 budget.

Arts Council grants have seen an almost 300 percent increase since 1999, when it received $40,000.

The Center for the Arts has received $30,000 each year since 2001.

County supervisors also showed more support for the art community when it approved its 2004 budget, which included $182,300 to renovate the Ferlazzo Building Auditorium. The money would fund new seats, an upgraded heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and a sound system.

The county entered into a joint agreement with the City of Manassas and George Mason University to partially fund a performing arts center with $450,000 of county money.

Arts groups receiving stability funding from the county in 2004 include the Masassas Community Chorale, Manassas Dance Company, New Dominion Choraliers, the Northern Virginia and Manassas Community Orchestra and the Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra.

Prince William Community Band and Little Theater, Vpstart Crow, Woodbridge Community Choir and Flute Choir and the Youth Orchestra of Prince William received the rest of the stability funding, totaling $92,972.

The remainder of the Arts Council’s $144,381, will go toward competitive grants.

Included in the donation to the Arts Council was $26,000 from the county’s year-end carry over budget, which totaled $13.3 million.

Supervisors approved the redistribution of left over revenues and unspent expenditures on Tuesday.

About $5.4 million of the leftover cash was injected back into the county’s 2004 budget.

Supervisors dropped $4 million into their fund balance, a monetary addition that would beef up the county’s favorable bond rating, said David Tyeryar, the county’s director of finance.

The county’s fund balance is currently $36,734,000, or 6.4 percent of its overall annual budget, with the carry-over addition.

A $600,000 chunk of the approved carry-over money will sustain county-wide service organizations that might have folded if the county hadn’t pitched in.

Action in the Community Through Service, a homeless and domestic violence shelter, and Securing Emercency Resources Through Volunteer Efforts, a similar service for western Prince William County, received $131,570 and $121,761, respectively.

Other organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Rainbow Center also received money, as part of the county’s one-time Coalition for Human Services Project.

About $1.1 million of the county’s carry over money went to [email protected] William for infrastructure improvements. About $300,000 goes to enhanced county retiree benefits.

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