Manhattan city commissioners wary of adding position for arts program

·4 min read

Jun. 16—Most Manhattan city commissioners are hesitant to add a full-time position with a $55,000 salary to help create a public arts program.

The full-time public arts program coordinator would help implement policies and coordinate art for a proposed public arts program. Coordinating an arts program would be a shift from Manhattan's current practice. The city handles art projects now on a case-by-case basis or through an "ad hoc" approach.

City administrators proposed adding the position in the 2022 budget, but since at least three commissioners weren't in favor, officials won't move forward with the idea in 2022. Instead, city administrators will work on a public art policy to present to commissioners at a later date.

"What's the number-one priority? Budget or art," said Mayor Wynn Butler. "Well, for me, it's budget. I think everybody knows that. And so what you've got to do is always consider the budget. It doesn't make sense to me to hire another full-time person, based on the budget situation we're in."

The mayor said he would consider adding the position if another entity or donor funds the salary. The Greater Manhattan Community Foundation is interested in giving money for the program, officials said, and the city wants to partner with other local art organizations.

"I wanted to see the arts program be one that we utilize money from the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation and did the best we could with art without overloading the staff," Butler said. "I know that's a challenge."

Commissioner Usha Reddi said she thinks there is interest from donors.

"I think that's there if we want to go with an endowed position of some kind," Reddi said. "But I do believe this requires a staff person. If not now, at least in the future."

Commissioners on Tuesday discussed the establishment of a program, but did not vote because it was a discussion item.

"I would like to see us get some things in place, but I think that we should try it as a continuation of ad hoc thing for a year and maybe we can put (the full-time position) in the budget for 2023, if it needs to be there at that time," said commissioner Mark Hatesohl.

Creating a blueprint for the arts program is what commissioner Linda Morse wants to do first. She said she is not interested in funding a full-time position either considering the city wasn't able to open up all three pools this year.

"I'm interested in developing that policy and having that be our No. 1 project here," Morse said.

Commissioner Aaron Estabrook said these are different arguments.

"Holding this up because the pool isn't open has really no dots connecting it," he said. "It's totally separate conversations about the hiring."

Estabrook said he wants the city government to pay for the full-time position and continue to move art forward in the community, especially with the Kansas Department of Commerce approving sales tax and revenue bonds for the new Museum of Art and Light.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners:

— Unanimously approved issuing industrial revenue bonds (IRB) not to exceed $50 million to Meadowlark Hills. Meadowlark Hills submitted a new IRB application to request consolidation of debt. Commissioners held a public hearing, but no one spoke. Manhattan issues IRBs to entities for development to better the entire economy.

— "It's the ability for companies like Meadowlark and many others to leverage this tool and it's a unique way for them to pursue with their financing," said Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager.

— Under an IRB, the city takes ownership of the property and leases it back to the entity, which makes the annual principal and interest payments on the bonds equal to the lease payments. If the city government has no legal responsibility for paying the bonds.

— "I think this is one of those that we've had good history with it and like you said, I don't see this as a problem," Reddi said.

— Talked about the Manhattan Development Code with senior long-range planner John Adam. Morse asked Adam who provided information for definitions in the code. He said the city had a robust public outreach process to talk to developers about the code and definitions. Because it was a discussion item, the commission did not vote. Commissioners will continue to work through the code with staff.

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