City ponders arts center help despite tight funds

The message has been steady as a drumbeat from City Hall in recent months: It's time to tighten belts.

Even so, Lawrence city commissioners are preparing to help another outside agency with its bills � in the same fiscal year that already has seen a hiring "chill" in city departments.

This time, the Lawrence Arts Center needs help. Director Ann Evans said the center needed $14,700 for two part-time employees to supervise its big new building in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street.

The new employees, she said in a letter to commissioners, were "needed for the safety of program participants and the maintenance of this wonderful building."

The employees weren't needed at the old Carnegie Library at Ninth and Vermont streets because that arts center building was small enough that employees on duty could do their jobs and keep an eye out for people walking in from the street.

Mayor Sue Hack said she supported the request, noting the city helped pay for the $7.25 million center.

"We need to protect the investment the city has in that building," Hack said.

If granted, the arts center funds would be the third midyear grant to an outside agency in two months. The Salvation Army got $30,000 to keep its homeless shelter open, and Housing and Credit Counseling Inc. last week received $13,000 to reopen its office for landlord-tenant mediations.

City Manager Mike Wildgen said all the grants were being paid for from the $212,000 general contingency fund, which is designed to give the city flexibility for unanticipated expenditures.

Hack said the commission had used several criteria, developed by Commissioner Mike Rundle, when considering the requests.

"We're not just throwing this money out," she said.

Under the criteria, the grants should be used:

� To meet city goals.

� To fill gaps in services unmet by other organizations.

� Only when other funding sources are unavailable.

"Maybe we'll develop that as a policy," Hack said.

Until then, she said, commissioners will be cautious about granting midyear requests.

"It's not government money, it's taxpayers' money," Hack said. "We'll always look at these requests in terms of the needs and our own financial situation."


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