Funding change liberates city art

Art is an intuitive practice, and so, it seems, is the process of governing city art installations funded through capital projects.

The Oak Harbor City Council approved two amendments April 7, altering a three-and-a-half-year-old city art ordinance.

In 2005 the council passed an ordinance to create the Arts Commission, established city funding for art by setting aside 1 percent of the cost of city capital projects and adjusted utility rates slightly to support the new program.

But the ordinance produced an unsteady funding stream and required the money be spent on art for the same project that generated the money, leaving city staff at odds with how to install art at a project that doesn’t lend itself to the visual senses, like sewer installation or underground utilities work.

“You wouldn’t put Mona Lisa on a manhole,” city Finance Director Doug Merriman told the council last week, referring to the dilemma of applying the 2005 ordinance to a sewer project.

Long-term planning for art also proved to be difficult, Merriman said, because capital projects vary in size and cost from year to year.

As an example, a $5,000 water project generates $50 for the art fund, but a $50 million treatment plant yields $500,000, he said.

The council’s approval of two proposed amendments to the original 2005 ordinance at Tuesday night’s meeting gives city staff more leeway for installations, so the art can be placed in a visible location, and creates a steady stream of funding.

The amendments repealed the 1 percent funds formerly drawn from capital projects, and paid for by city utility rate-payers, and replaced it with a one-quarter percent utility tax on water suppliers, sewage treatment and collection providers.

Most importantly, Merriman said, the change is cost neutral, provides an even revenue stream and eliminates restrictions on where the art can be placed.

If anything, the change will cost ratepayers less, as Merriman illustrated through an example of his own utilities bill. Under the old ordinance, Merriman paid an average of 31 cents each month over the last two months. Under the amended ordinance, he would have paid only 27 cents each month over the same time period.

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