• Arts and Science Council makes final pitch ahead of sales tax vote

    By: Joe Bruno

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With a performance of light music in the hallway and a serenading of county commissioners with the song “Hallelujah,” the Arts and Science Council pulled out all of the stops ahead of next week's vote on a potential sales tax increase referendum.

    [County commissioners discuss sales tax increase for arts referendum]

    The Arts and Science Council is requesting a quarter-cent sales tax increase to provide a dedicated funding source for the group.

    Mecklenburg County commissioners are expected to vote on July 2 whether to put this on the November ballot.

    "We, as a board, wanted our underserved communities for once to be overserved with cultural programming," said Valecia McDowell, incoming chair of ASC Charlotte.

    Donations, specifically workforce giving, is down, according to McDowell, who expects a majority of the funding will go to stabilizing existing organizations with the remainder going to programming.

    A quarter-cent tax increase would generate an expected $50 million. The current proposal being considered by commissioners calls for ASC to receive 49% of the funds from the new tax. Parks and Greenways would receive 30%, the teacher supplement would receive 16% and towns would receive 5% for arts and cultural programs.

    In a sharp rebuke, Vice Chair Elaine Powell told commissioners she feels like, "the cake has already been baked." Powell told commissioners parks need more funding. Powell proposed allocating 42% to parks, 35% to ASC, 18% to schools and 5% to art programs in towns.

    "It feels like a group of people with disproportionate say is telling us what they want and how they want us to do it," Powell said.

    Commissioner Vilma Leake also expressed skepticism over the proposal and said that her district does not receive enough programming from the Arts and Science Council.

    "My district is not the recipient of services as is some areas and that is a major concern for District 2," Leake said. "I am struggling with this process to do the right thing for the right people at the right time."

    Chair George Dunlap told commissioners he is hesitant to make any major changes to the revenue distribution because he wants the Arts and Science Council to lead a campaign to get voters to support the issue. 

    County Manager Dena Diorio said she was the one who came up with the proposed distribution. She said proceeds from the sales tax increase will help the county tackle economic mobility.

    "If you are really serious about reducing racial disparities, this is one way to do that," Diorio said.

    One of the strongest supporters of the measure is Commissioner Susan Harden, who said, if approved, the tax increase will have a transformational effect on the county's arts and cultural scene.

    "I believe profoundly that the arts and cultural sectors make incredible contributions to the public good and deserve public funding," Harden said.

    The current sales tax rate is 7.25 cents. Commissioners are expected to vote first on July 2 on whether to put the referendum on the ballot. Commissioners will then vote on how to allocate the funds.

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