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Event funding on chopping block

August 20, 2014

Kevin Carunchio, County CAO

A preliminary budget adopted by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors in June does not include funding for the county’s Community Projects Sponsorship Grant which has traditionally helped sustain some of the county’s most popular events.
Those missing funds have some organizations, including the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce, which received $31,000 from the program last year, concerned about the direction the county is heading in an effort to balance its budget.
County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio is scheduled to present his recommended budget to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks. That proposal could include CPSP funding, if local leaders can find other ways to eliminate a projected budget shortfall.
“The preliminary budget adopted in June removed $100,000 (the total funding amount) from CPSP and cut the Grants in Support Program in half,” Carunchio said Wednesday. Grants in Support traditionally help fund non-profit programs for groups like Wild Iris. “But I am very clear in my recommendation that when budget hearings begin in September, if we have more than $3 million in our General Fund balance, that the board consider reinstating CPSP and GIS.”
Carunchio said he is “cautiously optimistic” that funding will be available to fund the grants, if that is how the Board of Supervisors chooses to proceed.
Last week, Carunchio explained to the Board of Supervisors that there is a long way to go before fiscal staff can trim the $5.2 million deficit down to a manageable $3 million deficit that can be absorbed by the General Fund balance. Any General Fund balance beyond the $3 million can be used at the Board’s discretion.
According to Carunchio, the effort to trim costs to balance the budget has been an ongoing process that includes service re-designs in several departments.
“Today, the department- requested budget represents a $5.2 million deficit,” Carunchio told the Board of Supervisors last week. “We need to knock $2.2 million off that to get down to the $3 million goal you established.”
According to Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce Director Tawni Thomson, the move to eliminate community grant funding to balance the budget puts future tax dollars at risk.
The county-funded CPSP grant has been used in past years to help fund events like the Blake Jones Trout Derby, the California High School Rodeo State Finals and much more. Thomson said those programs draw tourists to the community. Those tourists stay at local hotels, eat at area restaurants and generally stimulate the local tax base while also providing the bread and butter for a huge cross-section of the local workforce.
“Cutting the Community Project Sponsorship program completely and possibly reducing other elements in the Advertising County Resources budget seems to be in direct conflict with Inyo County’s own stated Vision and General Plan” which calls for the promotion of tourism, Thomson said in an open letter to Chamber members. “It is undeniable that the County of Inyo is facing dire ‘structural’ budget problems, but tourism promotion is not part of the problem … it should be viewed as part of the solution … We can’t say specifically how to cut the expenses, but we sure know what we can do to bring in more revenues, … do a better job of selling Inyo County as a desirable tourist destination.”
For the 2013-14 fiscal year, Inyo County provided $100,000 in two rounds of grant funding for the CPSP. In the first round, $20,000 was divided between the Chamber of Commerce, Inyo Council for the Arts, the Death Valley Visitor Center, Laws Railroad Museum and the Amargosa Conservancy.
In the second round, $80,000 was divided between 13 different events from across the county.
“I think it’s a good program, we get a lot of bang for our buck,” Carunchio said Wednesday. “I’m very keen on the program, and hopefully we’ll be able to find the money to sustain it. These are hard decisions, and it’s important to understand these are just recommendations at this time.”
Carunchio said that he will publish his recommended budget by this coming Monday. That proposal will circulate publicly, before budget hearings kick off in Independence Sept. 3.
Carunchio said discussions on the GIS and CPSP grants will be scheduled, so residents who have concerns about the proposed cuts can plan to attend. “I think it’s a great program, and I’m glad the Chamber does too,” Carunchio said, adding that he would encourage anyone who is interested in the county budget to attend the budget hearings and weigh in with any suggestions they may have.

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