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Late County Funding Threatens Culturals' Cash Flow

By Joyce Kryszak

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-834961.mp3

Buffalo, NY – Late Erie County contracts almost left the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra unable to meet payroll this week. The crisis was averted. But other cultural leaders say the Administration's funding delays and other tactics are putting them all at risk.

The culturals usually have their first quarterly checks from the county by April first. But the contracts were only sent out two weeks ago. And when they arrived there were some changes that gave cultural leaders great pause.

As WBFO recently reported, the Collins Administration put new conditions on funding. The largest culturals were told they must add board seats appointed by the county executive. Some cultural leaders have not signed yet. And that means no check. The cash-strapped BPO eventually signed and expects to get a check in time to make payroll Friday. Executive Director Dan Hart said the board will have to deal with the board seat issue later.

"The county money is apart of our budget and we rely on it. So, we had to do everything we could to make sure we received it," said Hart.

Hart said he can see the Administration's reasoning for wanting board representation. As one of the "Big 8" culturals, the BPO gets roughly $800,000 a year in county support.

Still, Hart and others say adding ex-officio members to their boards can be complicated. In many cases, by-laws must be changed. And sometimes that can not happen until mandated annual meetings. Holly Sinnott is County Commissioner of Environment and Planning. She said they're willing to be patient.

"We are open to talking to talking with those organizations and making sure we can come to a resolution relative to having county seats at the table and not make it onerous on the part of the culturals.

But Legislative Chairwoman Lynn Marinelli says they've gotten plenty of complaints from groups that say the Administration is trying to exert too much control. And she says lawmakers want to know just who would be given influence on these artistic boards.

Cultural leaders turned out in force at a community enrichment meeting yesterday to protest the new board requirement - as well as many other new demands. Hallwalls Executive Director Ed Cardoni said there are mounds of new documentation required. He says it is more than onerous. Cardoni said he would call it ominous.

"It puts you on a slippery slope toward what could be government intrusion into the content of artistic programming - to censorship," said Cardoni.

The changes come when all the culturals are struggling due to the poor economy and other funding cuts. Click the audio player above to hear Joyce Kryszak's story now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.