Council postpones action on festival funding – again

For the second time in just a few weeks, the Macon City Council narrowly rebuffed an attempt to take funding away from the Cherry Blossom Festival and give it instead to the Georgia Children’s Museum and the Harriet Tubman African American Museum.

As the council did in December, it sent the proposal back to the Appropriations Committee, which has now twice approved it by a 3-2 vote. What is unclear at this point is what changes will be made to create a funding proposal that satisfies a majority of the council.

If the resolution were approved in its current state, the museums could gain new revenue streams through re-allocation of the city’s hotel/motel tax, so that two-thirds of what the festival currently receives is sent to those facilities instead.

The festival’s budget suggests that in dollar amounts, the $45,000 it gets in bed tax revenue would be whittled to $15,000. Festival officials say the cut would encourage county commissioners to revoke funding as well, which might force the event to shut down.

Still, the resolution is but a request of state legislators, who will ultimately decide whether to adjust the tax distribution formula.

Lee Robinson, chairman of the festival’s board, said he sees plenty of support for his organization from City Council members and feels confident they eventually will find a satisfactory solution.

“It’s never a bad thing for the train to slow down a little bit,” he said.

Two potential options for breaking the stalemate seemed to emerge by the end of the meeting Tuesday.

Councilman Alveno Ross proposed one, initially as an amendment on the floor of the council chamber. Ross suggested leaving the festival’s allocation the same, and taking money instead from the portion of hotel/motel tax that funds the Macon Coliseum to give to the two museums.

That ultimately did not pass, partly because council members wanted to give the idea further study. If hotel/motel tax revenue that normally is funneled to the Coliseum gets reduced, it would have to be replaced with money from the city’s general fund.

A second option was offered by Mayor Robert Reichert, who opposes cutting the festival’s funding. Instead of distributing hotel/motel tax funds to the museums, the mayor said he is committed to searching for money during the city’s upcoming budgetary process. Macon funds several outside agencies through annual appropriations, including the Museum of Arts and Sciences.

“I would suggest and urge that we find an alternative way to support the Children’s Museum and the Tubman Museum,” he said.

Councilman Mike Cranford, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and sponsor of the resolution, seemed skeptical that such money could be appropriated given the tight economic times. But he said he plans to hold the mayor to his word, and will ask Reichert to bring a funding proposal to mid-year budget reviews this month.

“There’s a lot of sentiment on this council to fund the Tubman Museum and the Children’s Museum, and I think we’ll find a way,” Cranford said.

To contact staff writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.