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St. Petersburg proposal for surcharge isn't best way to fund the arts

The St. Petersburg City Council is at it again.

As if red light cameras, additional parking meters, increased recreation and parking fees and the boot program were not enough, along comes a proposal for a $1 surcharge on ticketed events in the city's waterfront parks.

The panel is operating like a runaway train, bent on tacking fees onto anything that flinches.

The recent proposal by the Arts Funding Committee, made up of City Council members, has many detractors — and leaders of nonprofit groups — crying foul.

The surcharge is not only a bad idea, but it also raises this question: Why should cultural events that are already benefiting local charities be forced to subsidize the arts?

The Arts Funding Committee includes council members Leslie Curran, Jeff Danner and Bill Dudley, with Steve Kornell as an alternate.

When it was formed Feb. 18, 2010, the intent was "to seek private donations or other non-city sources to add to the initial $100,000 placed into the Art and Cultural Programs Fund," according to documents on the city's website. When that plan failed, the surcharge idea was hatched.

The proposal, which is still in committee, would create an endowment to boost the arts.

The surcharge is part of a larger plan to support arts education, increase jobs and attract national arts events here in the wake of substantial budget cuts.

In case the council's Glee-Fee Club hasn't noticed, funding has decreased everywhere, especially for social services.

Since the start of the recession, no group has gone unscathed. So the notion of creating a surcharge that benefits only the arts is unfair to countless other struggling groups.

The proposal also claims that the surcharge would increase jobs. But the only position mentioned was a new $100,000-a-year arts consultant.

Is that position essential, considering the city already has a manager of arts and international relations on the payroll?

As Kornell said during the June 16 meeting, the city already has a funding source for the arts.

The Arts and Culture Grant exists to support the very organizations the surcharge would help. Just as the Parks and Recreation Department has found creative ways to continue to enhance city parks through grants, it would be wise for the city to do the same for the arts.

Instead, this plan will pilfer from the successful events already held in the parks. Wasn't panhandling banned in this town?

A great deal of work goes into events such as Ribfest, the Jingle Bell Run and the Tampa Bay Blues Festival. Is it fair for the arts to benefit from the labor of others?

Countless nonprofit organizations have contributed to the city by hosting events in our waterfront parks.

Now we're going to make them jump through bureaucratic hoops to collect additional fees and be subjected to city audits to ensure the arts get funding.

Adding insult to injury, these groups weren't even consulted about the proposal. It would be a shame if the city loses events because of a trumped-up surcharge.

Mayor Bill Foster was on point for having reservations about this plan, which lacked public input.

Considering that the poor economy is affecting everyone, it would be wise for the council to find more creative ways to fund arts and cultural institutions without hijacking Race for the Cure, Taste of Pinellas and First Night.

Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at sgadsden@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8874.

St. Petersburg proposal for surcharge isn't best way to fund the arts 06/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 24, 2011 6:33pm]

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