Advocacy Articles

November 24, 2014 - 11:41am PST

Portland, OR: A City Committed to the Arts

The Portland City Council approved its fall supplemental budget this week, setting aside $10.1 million in excess cash for street signal maintenance, roof repairs and other projects.

Tucked into the spending package: $600,000 from the city's general fund for the Regional Arts & Culture Council, which provides grants to dozens of area nonprofit arts groups and artists.

RACC already receives general fund money -- $4.1 million just this year. RACC also benefits from the arts tax, formally called the Arts Education and Access Fund.

But when the arts tax didn't raise as much as expected, RACC found itself short of the money it planned on for to offer financial support for 47 arts groups, and Mayor Charlie Hales offered to help.

The voter-approved tax -- $35 a year for most residents – raised $8.9 million in its first year, with $4.5 million of that paying for more than 45 arts, music and dance elementary dance positions at Portland Public Schools (about $2.2 million went to other school districts serving Portland students). But that was well below projections of upward of $10 million.

RACC received $1.1 million from the arts tax the first year, city officials said, and $425,000 so far this year, the second. But it expected $2.8 million a year, according to RACC's website.

RACC spokesman Jeff Hawthorne said RACC identified a funding gap of about $1.2 million.

In July, Hales sought to reassure the group, sending a letter to Executive Director Eloise Damrosch.

"While I can't say yet with full confidence that when collections run at full capacity they will completely fund this general operating need," Hales wrote, "I will commit to making certain that if a gap remains, my staff and I will help find a way to fill it."

He added that he didn't "yet see a way to fund this initiative out of the city's general fund dollars, but will continue to think long term about ways we might achieve it."

Enter the $600,000 payment approved Wednesday.

"We feel really good about it," Hawthorne said, "We're really pleased that the mayor took this initiative," while adding that Commissioner Nick Fish was also a big supporter.

Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, said, however: "We're not going to take credit." It was Fish, he said, who "fought really hard" for the money.

The City Budget Office, meanwhile, recommended against the RACC spending and several other projects, saying the council should approve projects in the adjustment process only if they're "one-time, unforeseen, urgent, fully developed, and are unlikely to be absorbed in existing bureau budgets."

According to the latest city revenue projections, arts tax compliance is climbing, from 72 percent the first tax year to 67 percent and rising this year.

This year's arts tax payments are due April 15.