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Bello to Use CARES Act Money to Support Arts

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

JumpstARTS is a new program in Monroe County
to support small- to mid-size arts organizations. Provided by Monroe County

Most people will agree that the arts are crucial to a vibrant community.

Differences of opinion may occur over how to fund private organizations that enhance quality of life through their creativity.

Those differences have been on display at 39 W. Main Street, home to Monroe County government, as arts funding has become a point of contention between the legislature and County Executive Adam Bello and another way the supermajority sets policy.

A few days after vetoing a proposal from the Black and Asian Democratic Caucus that would have let the president of the Monroe County Legislature direct funding to a select group of arts organizations, Bello introduced a grant program based on applications and specific criteria.

But at its May 25 meeting, the legislature overrode the veto with the votes on party lines and the Black and Asian Democratic Caucus voting with the Republican majority.

What’s the fuss?

On May 24, Bello announced the JumpstARTS grant program, which will use up to $2 million in CARES Act money to help small- and mid-sized arts and cultural organizations that lost revenue because of COVID-19.

On May 21, he had sent notification to the legislature that he was vetoing legislation by the Black and Asian Democratic Caucus that would have allocated $131,000 in emergency grants to 17 organizations. Another organization was added during discussion at the May 11 meeting of the legislature. The money would have come from the the community fund – a discretionary pool – that the legislature approved earlier this year.

During the debate, some legislators criticized the way the organizations – which represented diversity in race and ethnicity and in types of art they present – were selected to receive funds that ranged from $2,500 to $20,000. Questions came up about how the organizations were selected and whether it was generally known in the arts community that money would be available and who could apply.

In putting forth the proposal, the Black and Asian Democratic Caucus said Monroe County has not significantly increased funding for the arts over the years and the $1.4 million allocation does not reflect the contribution of the arts to the community. The caucus cited data from the National Center for Arts Research that claimed arts and culture provided $93 million to the Monroe County economy a year and supports more than 3,600 full and part-time jobs and 6,600 volunteers.

They’ve also said that organizations in the Black and Latino communities historically have not received funding.

Bello is the first Democratic county executive in 30 years, meaning Republican county executives have had control over funding for arts and other aspects of life in Monroe County.

Why did Bello veto the legislation?

In his veto, Bello said the proposal was “flawed from a legal and technical perspective” because state law generally prohibits the county “from simply providing grants to private organizations” and it did not fit under allowed exemptions. He also said that allowing the president of the legislature to enter into contracts bypasses the system of checks and balances that protects taxpayer money. He said the law department could work with the legislature to fix the concerns.

Bello reiterated that argument in his response to the override. “I will not be a willing participant in jeopardizing local art institutions and the County finances by gifting public dollars in violation of state law,” he wrote. “I vetoed this legislation because it was in the best interest of county taxpayers and those who were to receive the funds.”

Bello said he was committed to supporting local artists and making sure the arts community “receives adequate funding, particularly as we seek to recover from the pandemic.”

The Republican majority in the legislature, with which the Black and Asian Democratic Caucus increasingly is aligned, issued a statement critical of Bello in the hours before the override.

“Now, after depriving arts organizations of much-needed funding, Adam Bello is trying to convince you into thinking he cares about these struggling organizations,” Republican Majority Leader Steve Brew wrote. “Make no mistake – Adam Bello only cares about the attention. The residents of Monroe County are tired of Adam Bello’s hypocrisy. He should fulfill his campaign promises and work with the Legislature instead of the divisive tactics that have been the hallmark of his failed administration.”

During the meeting, some legislators questioned Bello’s commitment to the arts, pointed to flat funding the county budget and said he had broken his promise of support.

The arts dustup is another example of the fractious nature of the legislature, which with the Black and Asian Caucus aligning with the Republicans creates a supermajority that can override vetoes. While some legislation is passed unanimously and some bills are crafted across the aisle, other measures are passed 20-9, with no Democrats other than the caucus members voting in favor.

What is JumpstARTS?

The legislature’s action is separate from JumpstARTS. The program is aimed at arts and cultural organizations that have not been eligible for previous grant programs. The organizations must be in Monroe County and be either non-profits or limited liability companies. They cannot have eceived grants through Fast Forward Monroe.

JumpstARTS will over three levels of grants:

  • organizations with a 2019 operating budget below $50,000 can receive a maximum grant amount of $5,000;
  • organizations with a 2019 operating budget between $50,000 and $99,999 can receive a maximum grant amount of $10,000;
  • organizations with a 2019 operating budget between $100,000 and $2 million can receive a maximum grant amount of $20,000.

Organizations with a 2019 operating budget of more than $2 million are not eligible for this funding.

Funds may be used only to cover expenses incurred between March 20, 2020, and June 18, 2021 because of COVID-19. These expenses are to be detailed through an itemized list of lost revenues and costs of operating through the pandemic.

Information and applications for the JumpstARTS grant program are at www.monroecounty.gov/jumpstarts#resources. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on June 18.

Organizations receiving funding through the legislature are generally eligible to receive JumpstARTS funding if they meet the criteria.

Updates on other legislation:

The legislature voted 29-0 to pass a local law designed to curb the illegal and unsafe use of off-road vehicles on public roads. Despite the vote, there was some contention.

The bill gives law enforcement the ability to cite, impound and permanently remove ATVs, dirt bikes or other off-road vehicles being used improperly.

The law bans the use of ATVs and dirt bikes on public roads in Monroe County, mandates the use of a state-certified helmet for those operating these vehicles legally, and increases fines for those cited for the illegal use of these vehicles. The first offense impounds the vehicle and issues a $500 fine, second offense is an additional impoundment and a $2,000 fine. Proper proof of registration and ownership must be provided to retrieve an impounded vehicle.

Legislator Rachel Barnhart sought to amend the law by having law enforcement collect and report data on the demographics of people cited for illegal use of the vehicles. The motion was voted down.

The legislature has set the following public hearings for June 8:

  • Three-foot safe passing law. To protect health and safety of bicycists. Law would require that drivers who are overtaking a bicycle on the same side of the road pass on the left and give the bicyclist at least three feet of clearance.
  • Establish a sustainable energy loan program. To promote renewable energy and a clean energy economy. The law would establish an energy improvement corporation, which would be local development corporation, to act on behalf of Monroe County to make funds available to qualified property owners who want to improve the energy efficiency of their properties. Money would be repaid through charges on the properties.
  • Gantt’s Law for Utilization of Minority and Women-Owned Businesses. To promote and encourage the county to use MWBE in procurement. The law would institute reporting guidelines, conduct training for MWBE and set new goals for use of such enterprises.

Anyone wishing to comment can call (585) 753-1950.