Budget, Orchestra, Arts
We’re now two full months in to this term of council and the agenda has been a heavy one. Right out of the gates, we were tasked with developing a strategic plan and beginning work on the City’s budget for 2015.
At the same time, we were confronted with the issues surrounding Orchestra London. We had a tough decision to make but in the end we elected not to grant the board’s request. I want to be clear, however, that our decision was not about our support for culture or the arts; it was about making a sound decision on what was put before us. The board was asking the City to cover its liabilities and help wind up the operations of the orchestra. They had not proposed to us a model to save the orchestra and so our choices were quite limited.
Currently, we are navigating through the nuances of the 2015 budget. It takes about $1 billion to run our city each year. Of that $1 billion, just over $4 million is spent to support non-profits through programs such as the Strategic Funding Framework, the Community Arts Investment Program and community micro-grants such as SPARKS! While we won’t be able to fund them all, in this year’s budget there is an additional $1.7 million in grant requests. These requests stand out because they are seen as discretionary. This has led to much public commentary about whether we should even be in the business of supporting culture and community programs at all. Some suggest instead that we should be focused solely on things like road repairs and garbage pickup. It should be pointed out that less than half a percent of the City’s entire budget is allocated to funding community and cultural programs but the return on our investment is far greater than what we put in.
As I canvassed through our neighbourhood during the election, one strong theme that I kept hearing on the doorsteps was about how much we valued our community and our culture. I share those values and my goal is to ensure we can support the things that keep our city vibrant and attractive. And, we can do this while ensuring we keep our tax rate in line with inflation. I truly hope our city’s future includes orchestral music along with theatre, arts and strong communities. When it comes to city-building, roads and culture should not be mutually exclusive.