City cuts arts and social service funding

Big cuts for the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council last night, leading the organization to layoff its director. Social service groups were also not spared the budget ax, but the impact is less clear.

See my coverage of last night’s council meeting below….

After rounds of staff and city service cuts, the City Council on Wednesday pressed the budget knife into arts and social service organizations.

They cried, they shook with anger, but the council finally made the cut.

“This is not a perk, not fluff. It’s a bona fide service,” Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said. “We are not doing our job, council. We are cutting our very soul.”

Faced with plummeting revenues, the council reduced the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council’s share of city funding by more than half.

Support for the Health Housing and Human Services Council was cut by about a sixth, dropping city funding from $500,000 down to about $422,000.

“We’re blessed to have these agencies, and these people are working hard,” said Councilwoman Hilary Franz, wiping tears from her eyes.

Both decisions were reached by 6 to 1 votes, with Councilman Bill Knobloch voting against.

“Our community has an identity,” Knobloch said of the city’s support for BIAHC. “If we want to be Anywhere, USA, we’d do this. But we’re Bainbridge Island. We cannot touch this. This is a part of who we are.”

Combined with an earlier cut, BIAHC’s $132,000 cut on Wednesday reduces its share of city funding by 57 percent from 2008 levels. City funding makes up half of BIAHC’s annual budget.

BIAHC will start cutting at the top.

“I lost my job,” BIAHC Executive Director Zon Eastes said on Thursday morning.

As BIAHC’s only full-time employee, Eastes’ salary was the one of organization’s largest budgetary line items not tied to grants or designated projects.

“They had to let me go,” he said. “I’m in the loose money part of the budget, and my salary is a relatively large chunk.”

Eastes’ nearly three-year stint will end in August. He and his family will likely return to Vermont.

BIAHC also plans to cut a half-time position, lowering its roster to the equivalent of 1.75 employees.

The organization will implement across-the-board reductions for projects, events, publications and the 11 cultural groups it supports, including Bainbridge Performing Arts, the Island Music Guild and the Field’s End writers organization.

Eastes predicts these organizations will follow suit with staff and service cuts of their own.

The cuts will reduce the cultural organizations’ ability to generate revenue through tuitions and admission fees, Eastes said.

“They’ll all be eating themselves,” he said.

Spending for a separate public art program was, by a unanimous council vote, capped at $20,000. The program draws a 2 percent share of capital project funding. The cap would effectively halt new projects for the next two years, allowing only for the maintenance of existing works.

The impact of the city’s cuts on HHHS are unclear.

HHHS Executive Director Jan Lambert declined to comment on the council’s decision or discuss how the reductions will impact her organization.

According to city documents, HHHS had planned to funnel about $319,000 of the city’s $500,000 contribution to various direct-service organizations, including the Bainbridge Boys & Girls Club and Helpline House.

HHHS would have retained almost $153,000 for itself and held $30,000 in a contingency fund.

According to Franz, HHHS recently agreed to a $50,000 reduction and this week consented to forgo the planned contingency.

A collection of other organizations earning a relatively small portion of the city budget did not see additional cuts on Wednesday. City support for the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association will likely remain at $29,500. Funding for the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, Association of Bainbridge Communities and the West Sound Wildlife Shelter will likely hold steady at a combined $24,000, according to Councilman Barry Peters, who chairs the council’s finance committee. Most of these groups had their city contributions reduced by about 25 percent in December.