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City eyes ‘One Percent for the Arts’ to fill budget gap

Mercer Island’s One Percent for the Arts Fund is rolling in green, thanks to the 2009 Sewer Lake Line Project. On the eve of the 2011-2012 budget review, such a large fund for non-essential goods and services may become a source to fill in the $2 million projected budget gap.

The fund is “almost entirely driven by” the one percent contribution from the sewer lake line project, said Rich Conrad, city manager.

Because the One Percent for the Arts Fund was created by the City Council, it has the ability to change the way that those funds are spent.

“What the Council create-ith, the Council can uncreate-ith,” Conrad said; however, “That’s never happened.”

One Percent for the Art money has always gone toward the arts, he said.

History did nothing to squelch Deputy Mayor El Jahncke’s suggestion to look at the large sum within the arts fund at a recent City Council meeting.

“It’s worthy of discussing it with the upcoming budget,” he said.

The following day at a monthly Arts Council meeting, Council member Dan Grausz, who is the City Council liaison with the Arts Council, told the group of the City Council’s discussion of possible alternative uses for the money within the One Percent or the Arts Fund.

“It’s quite flush at this point,” he said in reference to the fund’s balance of approximately $300,000. “The Council will be looking at that. Until it’s spent, it’s going to be a target.”

Grausz reminded the Arts Council that the money can “go anywhere” per city ordinance.

“Rich Conrad will submit a budget within the next month,” he said. “We’re short, and none of us has any idea right now what he’s going to cut.”

Conrad said the Council could use the money to fill a portion of the 2011-2012 budget gap.

“It’s not going to come out of the city manager’s budget,” Conrad said in an interview. “That’ll be something for the City Council to decide.”

NOTE: The Municipal Arts Fund, which supports performing arts such as Mostly Music in the Park is separate from the One Percent for the Arts Fund.

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