Ferndale weighs funding art, social services under budget crunch

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 18, 2013 

FERNDALE - An accounting change has city officials wondering whether they can afford to fund safety-net organizations as they have in the past. The discussion comes as the Ferndale Arts Commission is asking for city money to pay for public art.

Money for art and for social service organizations is on the City Council agenda for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19, at council chambers, 5694 Second Ave.

The city's finance department is forecasting a $43,000 deficit in the general fund for 2014, owing to new state rules that shift certain expenses from the water and sewer funds to the general fund, which must cover the safety-net costs.

The council started requiring formal applications from social service groups in 2012 for funding in 2013. The city gave $13,050 total this year to the Ferndale Food Bank, Ferndale Senior Center, Northwest Youth Services teen court and to domestic violence services.

The city was to begin taking applications for funding in 2014 on Aug. 1, but has held off "due to uncertainty with the budget," according to a staff report for Monday's meeting.

The Arts Commission, created in 2008, has operated without city support. Its representatives said they should get money from the city because art helps shape a city's identity and promotes its economic health, according to draft minutes of council committee meetings Wednesday, Aug. 14.

Two ways to fund public art are proposed, each modeled from other Washington cities. Ferndale would put into the public art fund $2 annually for every resident (roughly $24,500), or 1 percent of the cost of city construction projects.

At Wednesday's meeting of the Finance and Administration Committee, council members Mel Hansen and Jon Mutchler said it would be hard to justify supporting art when they might withdraw funding from safety-net organizations, according to the draft minutes.

More details on Monday's meeting are at cityofferndale.org.

Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2298.

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