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County Council May 16

Will continue to provide funds for charities
No extra funding for CARTA
Warwick Jones

There were two major issues before Council last night - Outside Agency contributions and the Sales tax budget, or more particular, the funding of CARTA. The special meeting of the Finance Committee that was called to consider Outside Agencies, ground along for more than hour as Council members rearranged figures, to find funds not only for Outside Agencies, but also for other items. The discussion over the Sales Tax budget was short with total acceptance of the Finance Committees recommendation, that CARTA receive no extra funding but its financial needs be reviewed within a few months.

Long list of items to be funded
Wheels could have spun without traction for some time at the Special Meeting to consider Outside Agencies. Staff presented a long list of items beyond Outside Agencies that needed funding, and also possible sources of funds. The list also showed suggestions by Council members Fava, Bostic and Condon. Initial discussion was essentially about whether Council should fund charities this year, and if they did, the restrictions that should apply. Council member Scott suggested that recipients should be 501 3c's or semi government agencies. Council member Bostic suggested that considering the tightness of the budget, Council omit any funding this year. Staff supported this view.

Voted to distribute $315,000 and restrict list of recipients
Council member Scott, as members confronted the arithmetical confusion, suggested that as a starting point, Council decide as to whether it supported the continuation of funding for Outside Agencies. If it did, he further proposed that the amount for this year be $315,000. Once the amount was settled, its financing and that for other items could be settled. Council voted to continue funding and accepted his $315,000 suggestion.

Council member Bostic proposed scrapping distribution, at least for this year
The subsequent discussion involved all of the Council members. We will cite Council members Scott and Bostic as the two conspicuous advocates on either side of the debate as to whether funding should be continued. Council member Scott noted the good that was done by the charities and the many instances where the funds were leveraged into even larger amounts. Council member Bostic noted that funding for Outside Agencies and other items that were recurring were coming from non-recurring sources. This was bad policy and something he had not seen in all his days on Council. Council had a responsibility to its constituents that it must look first to its core responsibilities. Only after these had been satisfied could Council distribute funds to Outside Agencies. He suggested that the whole policy be better defined and that no funds be distributed this year. On Council, only Council member Mc Keown seemed to support Council member Bostic's position.

Finds funds by juggling items
We won't attempt to describe all of the figure juggling. But in summary, the Finance Committee was able to find $2.25 million to finance Outside Agencies and other items of importance from three sources - delaying the implementation of part of the Compensation Study ($800,000), borrowing from the Tax Reassessment Fund ($1.35 million) and from another item ($60,000). Council also reduced amounts previously allocated to some items which together with the $2.25 million allowed Council to fund not only Outside Agencies but a number of other items, most of which related to other Agencies.

Both Chairman Stavrinakis and County Administrator Windham made remarks at the close of the Special meeting that suggested balancing the County budget was growing more difficult each year. They did not say that it was getting close to the time to raise the property tax millage. But it was implied.

No extra funding for CARTA
After a Post and Courier editorial in support of increased funding for CARTA, we suspected the authority's supporters were active over the weekend. If they attempted to beat up Council members, it didn't show. The Council voted to accept the Finance Committees recommendation of last week and to not provide the extra funding sought by CARTA. CARTA sought funding beyond the "proscribed" 18% of sales tax funds to cover debt service and some expansion of services. There was little discussion and most centered on the possible future action of Council.

At the Finance Committee meeting last week, Chairman Stavrinakis asked staff to look at CARTA's financial projections as a first step in possibly helping the Authority obtain extra funding. Staff commented at the time that it had looked at the projections and there were some "optimistic assumptions". There was also mention of the County buying CARTA's Leeds Avenue facility as a means to provide funds, and/or looking to Accommodation tax funds.

Council members were assured that means of assisting CARTA would be investigated but it could be one or two months before the results were available.

With the County strapped for funds and likely to move close to its bond-raising limit next year, we would not hold our breath that it will be able to buy the Leeds Avenue Facility. We also understand that there are legal difficulties, and these will apply to any claims on accommodation tax. Our assessment that it will be only the sales tax that CARTA can look to, to bail it out of its legal woes.

We also note that last night at the Special Meeting to consider Outside Agencies, Council member Condon suggested that CARTA be allocated $500,000 from the Council budget. We doubt that this allocation would have been legal but as it was not even discussed or considered, the allocation was moot.

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