Annapolis Council to vote on removing arts funding language from City Code; the budget of the arts commission will triple thanks to the allocation of the hotel tax

Depending on who you ask, it’s either a dumb decision or a very smart strategy.

Under a revised state law that goes into effect July 1, 3% of all hotel taxes collected in Annapolis will be used to fund the city’s Arts in Public Places Commission. The move was orchestrated by committee chairwoman Genevieve Torri, working in concert with state senator Sarah Elfreth, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation last year.

But Annapolis Alderman Elly Tierney said the “stupid move” to seek a direct reduction in hotel tax money surprised the city council. She is now sponsoring an ordinance to remove the language from the city code that says the council will allocate funds to the commission.

State legislation effectively triples the commission’s budget. In fiscal year 2022, it received $67,500 from the city budget. But the hotel tax is likely to funnel more than $200,000 into the arts commission in fiscal year 2023. In anticipation of the hotel tax disbursement, the city council has not allocated any additional money to the commission in fiscal year 2023.

Continuing to fund it in the future would be like doubling, Tierney said. “It’s a simple matter of logic.”

The all-Democratic council is due to hear public testimony on the order on June 27.

“I think we have the votes,” Tierney said.

April Nyman, longtime executive director of the Anne Arundel Arts Council, was appalled by the council’s proposal and called Torri’s successful bid to receive hotel tax funding a “very smart move”.

Although any local arts council in Maryland is eligible for hotel tax funding, Anne Arundel County appears to be the only municipality to benefit, said Steven Skerritt-Davis, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council.

The late Speaker of the Maryland House, Michael Busch, played a key role in crafting that legislation, Nyman said.

Financing of the hotel tax became politically popular two decades ago, in response to the “culture wars” of the mid-1990s. Politicians might say they support the arts, but avoid taking blame for direct credits for controversial projects. Under Anne Arundel’s 2009 County Plan, the Visit Annapolis Tourism Board receives 17% of all county and city hotel taxes, and the County Arts Council an additional 3%.

But last year, Elfreth proposed a bill that would demand greater accountability for how taxpayers’ money is spent. It was then that Torri suggested that a further cut of the city’s hotel tax money go directly to the Annapolis Arts Commission, and Elfreth agreed. At the request of Ward 6 Alderman DaJuan Gay, Elfreth has also earmarked an additional 3% of Annapolis hotel tax funding for an affordable housing fund.

The net result: Effective July 1, Annapolis will receive 74% of all hotel taxes collected instead of 80%, a net loss of approximately $500,000 per year. The city’s total budget is approximately $175 million.

“We have a nice budget coming up,” Torri told fellow commissioners at the May meeting where the commission discussed future plans to spend more than $200,000 in the coming fiscal year. “I don’t think it will be difficult to spend it. People turn in circles. »

Under its current mandate, the commission only funds artistic events and exhibitions that can be experienced by the public free of charge. As a municipal commission, it cannot directly receive external subsidies. The majority of its budget is spent on murals, two city-owned galleries, and the City Dock summer concert series. Former Mayor Ellen Moyer, a Democrat, created the commission in 2001 to ensure the city had funding for the arts beyond the grants given to arts groups by the county arts commission.

When Republican Mike Pantelides was elected mayor of Annapolis in 2013, he quickly cut funding for the arts commission to $0. The commission survived its position as mayor thanks to donations that were forwarded by a non-profit Annapolis community. Under current Mayor Gavin Buckley, a Democrat, funding has rebounded. Torri, a political consultant who has also worked in the music industry, was appointed to the commission in 2019. She also led Buckley’s successful re-election campaign in 2021.

Her fear, she said, is that future mayors and councils will be less supportive of the arts, so she wanted to secure funding.

“Our plan for the future is to be smart and to be fiscally responsible,” Torri said.

Tierney, however, thinks Torri made a mistake by not showing up for the board and asking for more money. In an interview, the alderwoman pointed out that her concerns about the commission stemmed from the fact that Torri and her colleagues had not spent all of their allocated funding over the past few fiscal years, and then worked with Elfreth to change the distribution of funding from the hotel tax without consulting the council.

“My angst is about how it was done and why they did it,” Tierney said.

Elfreth defended her legislation saying she informed the mayor of the change last year and said she authored the bill because she wanted the commission to have a dedicated funding source.

But the senator said she didn’t know the council would react by removing arts funding from the city’s code, nor did she know the council hadn’t been told. “I felt like just contacting the mayor’s office was enough,” she says.

Buckley said he supports hotel tax funding for the commission and declined to comment on the apparent communication trap.

At several points in the city’s budgeting process in June, Tierney, Gay and Ward 2 Alderman Karma O’Neill all made disparaging comments about the arts commission and its funding choices, such as “Tango Night.” at the CityDock. Recreation and Parks Director Archie Trader has pushed for amendments to the council budget that would add line elements for a basketball mural at the Pip Moyer Leisure Center and to make a documentary on gun violence in the city.

He was told to get that money from the arts council.

“We just gave them $250,000,” Gay said, referring to the hotel tax allowance.

But Torri said Trader only asked the commission for $10,000 for the mural, and that’s what he received. Commission funding for murals is usually $15,000.

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Additionally, the council has never funded a film project because filmmakers typically aspire to showcase their work at film festivals, which charge admission, making films ineligible for commission funding.

Regarding allegations that the commission did not spend all of its allocations from previous years, Torri said the commission ended up with a budget surplus due to COVID-19 cancellations and carried over part of the budget. money in case the board cuts its funding.

“Some board members don’t understand what we’re doing,” Torri said. Its priorities for FY2023 include increasing fees for artists performing at the City Dock concert series, launching a request for proposals for a permanent public art installation at Westgate Circle and possible collaborations with the Anne Arundel County Arts Council.

Nyman says these projects are possible because she and Torri worked together to push for hotel tax funding legislation.

“Through this, we gained a valuable partnership,” Nyman said.

Even if the commission receives the expected maximum amount of hotel tax of about $250,000, that’s still not a lot of money in the grand scheme of arts funding. The Arts and Humanities Commission in Washington, DC, has a budget of $33 million from sales taxes; Bids for a single mural project start at $250,000.

But in Tierney’s opinion, the Annapolis commission should be able to raise the same amount of money and fund many projects. “We’ll have to see what they do,” Tierney said.

For memory

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when the Arts Funding Ordinance would be voted on. A hearing on the bill will be held on June 27. A final vote will likely take place next month.

Aurora J. William