Cuts in meal-tax money that Columbia City Council imposed last month are hurting signature events, organizers say, as some cultural groups are pushing back to regain the public funding.
“Our mission is at stake,” Columbia Classical Ballet board chairman Lee Lumpkin said Monday in advance of council’s Tuesday vote for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Council is scheduled to vote on recommendations from a citizen advisory committee that had $460,000 less to allocate. The reduction is because council members took that much on May 17 and allocated it to other events and groups plus committed $1.25 million yearly to expand downtown museums.
So far, the reactions from those who filed 78 applications seeking $5.4 million have been muted, said John Whitehead, whose Columbia Music Festival represents more than two dozen smaller arts groups. “I would think that by Wednesday (the reaction) will be loud.”
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Raj Aluri is an organizer of the International Festival that showcases Columbia’s multicultural qualities and attracted more than 22,000 people to its most recent spring event.
An impending $5,000 cut for the upcoming 22nd annual festival will strain but not kill the event, he said. “I guess we will survive,” he said. “We’ll have to scale it back and we won’t be able to advertise.”
Aluri said the International Festival has been cut $50,000 by the city over three fiscal years to $20,000 for the upcoming year. But Richland County Council has increased its support to $104,500 for the upcoming year, he said.
“If the county would not have come through, we would have shut down the festival,” Aluri said.
Lumpkin said she has contacted council members asking that the ballet company get at least the $125,000 it received this year and preferably $175,000.
At the current $105,000 the citizen committee recommended, “We’re in trouble with our dancers’ contract,” she said..
Columbia Classical Ballet has contracts with 18 foreign dancers, who must show proof of the contracts before they can be issued travel visas, she said.
She, too, commended County Council for increased its support for the ballet, which last year lost its remodeled studio in October’s flood. Last week, county council allocated an additional $49,000 on top of the $30,000 it normally grants the ballet, Lumpkin said.
But she is not optimistic that City Council will sweeten the pot. “I’m feeling that $105,000 is going to stand,” Lumpkin said.
Still, Aluri, Lumpkin and others are pressing council to reinstate the money.
Mayor Steve Benjamin said Monday he’s talking with leaders of the Columbia Museum of Art about stretching council’s $1 million commitment over more than the planned five years, which would put some money back into the pot for other groups.
A list of the requests for money, current year allocations and next year’s funding recommendations is available on City Hall’s website.
Clif LeBlanc: 803-771-8664
If you go
Columbia City Council meets twice Tuesday. Among items on the agendas is a final vote on the $310.4 million city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. work session; 6 p.m. regular meeting, where the budget will be taken up.
WHERE: Both meetings will be held in council chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 1737 Main St.
NOTE: Any cultural or arts organization that wants to see its recommended meal-tax funding for the 2016-2017 fiscal my do so at the city’s website. Here’s how to find your group:
Go to columbiasc.net. Then click sequentially on the “City Council” tab, scroll to “City Council Agendas,” then the June 21 work session. The list is Item 2 on the work session agenda.