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Mon, Sept. 23

Arts grants distribution vexes council members

PRESCOTT – The $20,000 that the city earmarked for the performing arts continued to be an issue of contention for the Prescott City Council this week.

After grappling with the issue during several meetings in the summer and fall, the council appeared to be set on a course two months ago that included allocating $20,000 to the performing arts, and authorizing the Prescott Area Arts and Humanities Council (PAAHC) to recommend how the city should divide that money.

But this week, as they considered the PAAHC recommendations, council members balked at the amount. And it was the consensus of the group that the city should allocate just one-half of the $20,000 at this time, and reserve the other half for contingencies.

Tuesday's meeting was a study session, however, and the council did not take an official vote on the matter. The issue likely will be back on the agenda for the Dec. 9 voting meeting.

Going into this week's meeting, the council had a recommendation from PAAHC, which included awarding the entire $20,000 to four events: $6,046 to Tsunami on the Square; $5,290 to the AZ Classical Theatre; $4,584 to the Prescott Bluegrass Festival; and $4,080 to Access 13's Western Film Festival.

PAAHC based its recommendations on the rankings that an independent panel did on eight events that were in the running for city money. The four events that PAAHC recommended got the highest rankings from the panel, and the PAAHC board divvied up the $20,000, based upon those rankings.

But some council members had a problem with that rationale.

"I'm a little nervous with us doing the whole shot, and not leaving a contingency," Mayor Rowle Simmons said. "My feeling would be to basically cut it in half."

Councilman Bob Roecker noted that the council had stated that it would allocate "up to $20,000" to the arts. "Now the recommendation comes in for all of the money in the budget," Roecker said. "To me, it's a little irritating."

Others on the council suggested that the city should require that the money go exclusively for marketing and promotion of the events, similar to the city's arrangement with the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo.

And maintaining that PAAHC had earlier set a $5,000 cap for each grant, Councilman Steve Blair asked why the group had recommended that some events should get more.

John Tannous, president of PAAHC, pointed out that organization members felt that the best investment would be to award larger sums to fewer events.

City Attorney John Moffitt added that the city's policy does not set a $5,000 cap on the grants.

Kelly Johnston of the AZ Classical Theatre noted that the council had earlier made its decision on the allocation for the arts. Now, he said, "it sounds like there's a back-pedal going on. It seems like this is exactly what the council had discussed before trying to avoid, which is micro-managing." He added that it is "human nature" that PAAHC would recommend using the entire $20,000, when that is the amount the city said would be available.

But Blair pointed out that the $20,000 was not in the city's original budget. "We went out and found the money and scraped it out of Parks and Recreation," he said. "I think it's more frugal (not to allocate it all at one time)."

Simmons added that the council members had emphasized all along that they would have the final say on how the city would allocate the money.

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