ALTON | As state cuts begin to press their way into the area, Alton is looking at some serious decisions in the coming weeks.
One organization set to feel the crunch is Alton Main Street, an organization formed in 1995 to engage the community “in the continued renewal of our downtown district and Mississippi River heritage by cultivating an attractive center of economic and social activity.”
Under the direction of executive director Sara McGibany, the group has worked to invigorate and revitalize the downtown area, organize cultural events (many at no cost) and initiate and assist in saving and renovating historic buildings in the area.
“Alton Main Street does a phenomenal job, with things like the tree lighting, the Farmers’ Market and the Taste of Downtown,” Mayor Brant Walker said. “Unfortunately, when you are looking at laying off police officers, firefighters or even eliminating a department, not being able to hire any new employees, you have to prioritize.
“We are trying to keep as many first responders as we can, particularly police and fire personnel.”
Currently, Alton Main Street is budgeted to receive $18,000 a year from the city. That amount is set to be drastically reduced or eliminated in the midst of budget cuts later this month.
In 1995, the organization began receiving $25,000 annually. By 2006, it was down to $15,000 and McGibany negotiated an increase of $3000. She questions why the city is looking at eliminating her entire budget rather than cuts to other programs who she says could take the hit and survive.
“If we lose this funding, our board will have to make some immediate, difficult decisions on what programs and services to eliminate,” McGibany said. “The long term effects could be that the organization ceases to exist.”
To retain a “Main Street” designation, a group must employ a full-time director if the population is over 5000, says McGibany.
In a press release submitted to AdVantage News on Tuesday, Alton Main Street says it coordinates approximately 3500 volunteer hours annually, providing services that ease the burden of city government.
“This $18,000 cut would do very little to improve the City’s budget deficit, and it would completely decimate an organization that does nothing but great things for our community,” 1st Ward Alderman James Ryan said.
“The biggest problems we are facing right now are the LGDF’s projected cuts and a $1.1 million rise in our pension fund this year,” Walker said. “This is a combination of not funding our pension for decades and what the governor is projecting to cut.”
The Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF) consists of money distributed by the government from state income taxes collected. The amount each municipality receives is based on population and is sent monthly. Gov. Bruce Rauner is proposing a 50 percent cut in those funds coming into Alton as part of an aggressive effort to deal with the state’s budget crisis. Walker has said previously a cut of that magnitude could be devastating for the city, which currently carries a $1.8 million deficit.
The city must have its budget finalized by June 30, according to state statute. It can then be adjusted as late as Sept. 30.
The governor’s proposed budget cuts are set to also drastically affect local human services such as education and senior programs such as those provided by Senior Services Plus.
Walker says he is confident other local organizations such as the RiverBend Growth Association and the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau will do what they can to help ease the blow for Alton Main Street.
As rumblings of the possible cuts reverberated through the area this week, supporters of Alton Main Street took to social media to express their displeasure with the proposed funding cuts, but Walker says the city has been painted into a corner.
“Cuts will be made across the board,” he said.
Reporter Diane Cox contributed to this story
Below is a Letter to the Editor from Alton Main Street Executive Director Sara McGibany:
Alton’s treasured Main Street© program is in jeopardy due to being cut out of the City’s 2015-2016 budget, and we ask for your support to save this community asset. Alton has enjoyed this designation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1995, when our city leaders made a conscious decision to invest in the revitalization of the charming ambiance of Third Street and precious architecture of the Broadway corridor. These places of shared memory set Alton apart, and allow us to reflect on how the past has shaped us.
Over the last 8.5 years as director, I have witnessed the citizens of Alton begin to truly “walk the walk” of a Main Street community, and it is clear that our hard work is starting to produce significant results. While AMS is best known for our outstanding special events such as the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market, which are very valuable to Alton’s economy, we also coordinate thousands of volunteer hours – providing services that ease the burden of City Government while instilling pride in our hometown. We work to attract new businesses, and provide an abundance of exposure for small shop owners who have limited advertising budgets. Behind the scenes, your Main Street program coordinates a network of community resources that improve Alton’s quality of life far beyond our district’s borders. We help countless partner organizations fulfill their missions by sharing our resources and expertise.
Please express to your alderperson that eliminating our budget would have a negative impact that is far greater than the $18,000 savings. Visit www.DowntownAlton.com/SaveMainStreet for more information.
Sara McGibany - Executive Director of the Alton Main Street Board of Directors