Local Arts

County commissioners give themselves more oversight of arts council if sales tax passes

Members of the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners voted Wednesday to create a new structure for the Arts & Science Council board if voters approve a sales tax referendum in November.
Members of the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners voted Wednesday to create a new structure for the Arts & Science Council board if voters approve a sales tax referendum in November.

Mecklenburg County commissioners voted Wednesday to increase government oversight of the Arts & Science Council if voters approve a quarter-cent sales tax in November to fund the arts, greenways and education.

Commissioners voted 7-2 on a new framework that would put multiple county commissioners and city council members on the ASC board, although they did not specify how many. In addition, county commissioners and city council members would each put an equal number of their appointees on the board.

Other ASC board members would be comprised of representatives from towns in the county as well as members of the private sector.

Currently, the 28-member ASC board includes one Mecklenburg County commissioner, one Charlotte city council member and one staff person from the city and the county, in addition to representatives from local companies and community volunteers.

The ASC serves as the main arts funding umbrella organization that raises funds and passes them on to big and small arts and culture groups in the area.

If Mecklenburg County voters approve the sales tax increase, the county sales tax would rise from 7.25% to 7.5%. The tax would generate $50 million, 45% (or $22.5 million) of which would go toward arts and culture groups.

Under the plan passed Wednesday, the new ASC board would report regularly to the county commissioners and there would be a contract between the Arts & Science Council and county commissioners “that would direct how money gets spent,” County Manager Dina Diorio told commissioners during the meeting.

What commissioners approved Wednesday is only the beginning of leadership decisions about the ASC that would need to happen if the public passes the sales tax increase. Commissioners didn’t discuss how ASC staffing would be impacted, or how tax money would be divvied up between the city’s cultural and arts groups.

Because of the influx of public money that would result from the sales tax revenue, the Arts & Science Council would no longer hold fundraising campaigns or create its own programming, Diorio said.

“There will be fewer people. It will be a smaller organization,” she said.

Spending plans

In the proposal’s initial language, the Arts & Science Council board would make final spending decisions for the organization. But some commissioners, including Trevor Fuller, balked at that idea, saying county commissioners should have the final say on how the public money is spent.

“I am not OK with collecting $25 million from the people of this county and giving it to an un-elected board,” Fuller said.

Commissioners decided to remove language stipulating which board would make final spending decisions before passing the measure. So it’s not clear whether commissioners or the ASC board would be the ones to decide which groups get funding, and how much they receive.

Commissioners Elaine Powell and Pat Cotham were the “no” votes Wednesday. Powell said she believed the matter needed more public input. Cotham said there weren’t enough details or data in the plan proposed Wednesday for her to vote “yes.”

The city council has not yet weighed in on the county’s plans.

If the referendum fails, no changes would happen to the Arts & Science Council governance model.

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