Mayor's motives on Heart funding questioned

May 25, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Nobody said it, but it was in the air. Tension, that is, between Mayor John W.D. Bowling and members of the Heart of Danville on Monday.

Bowling and two commissioners cut funding for the organization to $5,000 - that's $40,000 less than it received last year.

At the moment it looks like there's no money for Whimsy in Weisiger and the farmer's market. Commissioners are expected to discuss the events at a budget meeting June 1.

Bowling didn't budge. He said the city had to cut somewhere because it doesn't have money.

"Some organizations didn't get anything," Bowling said.

Bowling said it has come down to a choice between cuts and raising taxes.

Commissioner Jamey Gay said he disagreed with the mayor. He believes that the city needs jobs, and that the Heart has proven it can create jobs.

"It's downtown that attracts business here," Gay said.

Later Bowling said, "We've heard that the Heart does this, the Heart does that ... However there is a misconception that the beautification, jobs and buildings downtown are all because of the Heart."


Bowling said that property and business owners are the ones that make downtown what it is, by spending their own money.

Bowling's grant request was denied

Bowling owns the Professional Arts Building downtown. He paid $3,227 to have it painted, and then applied through Heart of Danville for a state grant to reimburse his costs. Many property owners downtown received such grants for the facades of their buildings.

But the state's rules required that the grants be awarded to work in the planning, not to pay for work that was already completed. Bowling's application was denied.

At that time, members of the Heart board met, and their minutes reflect a concern about the situation. Some said then that they feared that the decision would come back to haunt the organization. "There was concern around the table that it was a possibility" that Bowling would try to cut the groups funding, John Caywood, a board member said in a telephone interview Friday. "Only the mayor can answer that question."

Bowling denies that one has anything to do with the other.

"I would hate for this to get personal," he said at the meeting Monday. "The simple fact is that the city didn't have enough to go around."

Revenue has been flat, as has the population of the city. Commissioners didn't even fulfill all of the city staff's requests.

However, the decision to cut funding to the Heart from $45,000 to $5,000 was split. Commissioners Ryan Owens and Chester Kavanaugh were in favor of the cut. Commissioners Terry Crowley and Jamey Gay were not.

Heart's efforts brought Perros to Main Street

Downtown property owner Mike Perros said that he wouldn't be on Main Street if it weren't for the Heart's efforts.

He chaired the committee that reviewed Bowling's grant.

"Every one of us on the board took the mayor's request with the utmost sensitivity," Perros said. "We deliberated at great length to try to figure out a way to meet that particular grant request, and there was just no way to do it without violating our own personal, collective code of ethics."

Perros said that he had heard that there was "some dissatisfaction from city hall" about denying the mayor's request. Asked whether he believed that the funding cuts had anything to do with the denial, Perros said, "I certainly hope not."

Asked the same question Bowling said, "I was afraid this thing could become personal, and I'm not going to get personal."

The city has proposed deep cuts to many organizations, but none nearly as much as the Heart of Danville.

There were 11 requests that weren't filled at all. Of those, seven hadn't received funding last year. Some were questioned as a proper use of city money by Crowley.

The next largest cut came to the Great American Brass Band Festival. It received $35,000 last year, and is set to receive $30,000 this year. At the time, commissioners said they would help the festival if it ran short.

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