Event funding creates rift in Glenwood
GLENWOOD SPRINGS City Council’s decision to give money to a culinary festival has left a bad taste in the mouths of a city advisory board.The disagreement also has widened into a broader rift over the board’s recommendations for allocating funds for community events and organizations.In a letter to council last week, the city’s Financial Advisory Board said council has “subverted” the board’s ability to perform its duties. It also said that out of fairness to all the applicants, it is withdrawing its recommendations to council for how to distribute city discretionary funds.The board’s frustration with council originated when council went against its recommendation and decided to give $5,000 to the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts for its annual Culinary Arts Wine & Brewfest.After that, the board met with some council members who also raised questions about the appropriateness of some other board recommendations. The board since has decided that until it gets clarification from council related to issues surrounding the distribution of funds, it won’t make any further recommendations.The board is responsible for recommending how the city allocates more than $100,000 in discretionary funds each year, and a similar amount of money for events, capital improvements and beautification projects that promote tourism.Advisory board chair Mike McCallum said council’s actions have been frustrating for the board. Council used to analyze discretionary fund applications itself before delegating the time-consuming task to the board.”Council’s always been under the understanding if they want us to do the work then that’s fine, but then they should think hard about changing the recommendations,” he said.Mayor Bruce Christensen said he found the tone of the board’s letter to the city to be offensive. He said it’s council’s job to evaluate the board’s spending recommendations and overrule the board where warranted.He questioned the board’s rigidity on the funding. He said the board expects council to accept its recommendations as is, “when it is an advisory board.”An advisory roleBoard members say they recognize their role is advisory only, but they have to look at the larger picture when deciding how much to recommend for each applicant, and each decision can affect the other decisions they make. Out of fairness after council’s action on the art center event, the board should go back and re-evaluate similar requests from other organizations that it had recommended be turned down, its members contend.The board had argued that one reason the culinary festival shouldn’t receive funding is that it is a fundraiser that already makes a profit, and any extra money would simply add to that profit margin. It took the position that the city shouldn’t fund “pass-through” donations to such events.Council argued that the culinary festival was deserving of funding and gave it $5,000. McCallum said while that is council’s right, what bothers him is that some on council never saw the funding applications before overriding the board.”In our opinion it was who you know … and if you have enough political muscle then you’re going to get the money,” McCallum said.The board also argues that the arts center already receives a lot of money from the city. Christensen said both the arts center and Frontier Historical Museum receive $50,000 a year from the city, and the city also contributes to the museum’s annual Ghost Walk fundraiser. But McCallum said the arts center also rents its building from the city for $1 a year, which he figures is worth at least $75,000 a year in free rent.Meanwhile, Christensen and some others on council are raising new questions about things such as providing aid to organizations that are religious in nature or aid the homeless, or in some cases both. Christensen said homeless people have been involved in some criminal problems downtown, and it may be more appropriate for public funds to go toward treatment rather than handouts for them.He also worries whether funding some religion-based programs such as Catholic Charities and the Feed My Sheep day shelter for the homeless could violate the separation between church and state. McCallum said the board looks at whether the services the groups provide include religious sermonizing.Advisory board member Ken Murphy said it’s important that council give the board clearer direction on the criteria for allocating funds.Christensen agreed. “I think that it’s pretty obvious that we need to develop clear-cut guidelines for both of these (discretionary and tourism promotion) funds,” he said.
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