The first draft of Fort Worth's budget for the next fiscal year slashes the Arts Council of Fort Worth & Tarrant County's budget by 25 percent, a cut the group calls devastating.
The city calls the proposal a "maintenance budget," because it has no new major initiatives, no pay raises, no major cuts and likely no layoffs, as enough open positions that can be kept open.
Fort Worth had to close a $49.6 million budget gap. The city manager and budget director are recommending using $43.6 million in excess fund reserves, as well as reducing costs and cutting positions to the tune of $8.9 million.
The $1.4 billion budget, which includes $583 million in general fund expenditures, is only being reduced by about $3 million. It is not a large number compared to years past, but it's a big deal to the Arts Council.
Jody Ulich, the president of the Arts Council, described the cut her organization faces as "devastating." The council will lose $266,564, 25 percent of its budget.
"We need to be very careful about cutting too much, because we are going to start affecting quality," Ulich said.
The arts council and its funds supported 43 arts organizations and events in the last fiscal year, such education efforts at local museums, performances at places such as the Jubilee Theater downtown -- not to mention the opera and symphony at Bass Hall.
"Right now, we're looking at $84 million in economic impact to Fort Worth," Ulich said. "It's a huge amount of money, so as we start cutting that and cutting that, the impact will get less, so why would you look at cutting something that actually brings you in revenue?"
Horatio Porter, Fort Worth budget director, said the city would prefer to not have to cut anything. But with limited resources, the city is focused on funding the council's and public's priorities, such as police and fire services and transportation, he said.
"And that doesn't say Arts Council isn't important, doesn't mean United Way isn't important, because those are very important organizations to our city but, with limited resources, you focus on the priorities," he said.
Porter said earlier in the year there were discussions about completely cutting funding to the council and other programs.
Ulich said she understands there has to be juggling in these tough times but said the Arts Council has done its part in recent years. Under the current budget proposal, the council would have been cut by 45 percent over the last five years, she said.
She pointed to the city's slogan as a reason why the proposed cut should be reconsidered before the council passes the budget next month.
"This is the City of Cowboys and Culture, and we need to nurture and support the culture," Ulich said.
It's time the city looks at funding the arts through other means, such as hotel occupancy taxes, she said. Fort Worth and Dallas are the only two major Texas cities that use the general fund, Ulich said.