Photo by Eric McRoy
Before the vote by Alton City Council on June 24 regarding a budget proposal that potentially could have eliminated Alton Main Street, supporters filled the seats and lined the halls, holding up signs reading "Save Main Street."
ALTON — After an anxious few weeks, it looks as if the axe will not fall on what many feel is an organization vital to the future of Alton.
Following a proposed budget cut of the entire $18,000 provided to Alton Main Street annually from the city, the City Council approved a $7,000 line item Wednesday in the new budget after the Alton Regional Visitors and Convention Bureau stepped forward with an offer of assistance to keep AMS afloat.
Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau President Brett Stawar told AdVantage News his organization had been meeting with AMS Executive Director Sara McGibany as late as June 24, the day of the City Council meeting, to discuss options and what the CVB could do to help with AMS efforts and duties, including the offer of office space and assistance with events.
“I am looking forward to seeing us work together,” Stawar said.
Before the vote, he addressed the council.
“What the CVB has done specifically … is to offer office space, utilities, supplies, and even some program expenses and promotions to ensure the viability of its wonderful programs like the farmers’ market, a Taste of Downtown and even the tree-lighting ceremony at Lincoln Douglas Square.”
It is estimated the assistance the CVB is offering will equal approximately $11,000 in in-kind services, basically ensuring those services, in addition to the $7,000 from the city, will put AMS in roughly the same position as before the budget cuts.
“This was as good an outcome as we could have hoped for in this economic climate,” McGibany said. “I am so thankful to the council for listening to the community and realizing how important we are.”
Before the meeting, McGibany could be found in front of City Hall, holding signs with other supporters that read, “Save Main Street.” Those signs also were being displayed inside council chambers during the meeting, as many people spoke out regarding the importance of the organization.
The proposed cut in AMS funding resulted from the city’s $1.8 million deficit. Alton is required to have its budget balanced by June 30, according to state statute. It can then be amended as late as Sept. 30.
“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,” Alton Mayor Brant 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.
“I fully and completely support the efforts of Alton Main Street,” Walker said in a letter to the editor before the vote. “I firmly believe that it is an integral part of our community and I want nothing more than to see it thrive. Because of that belief, I have worked extremely hard to ensure that it will survive regardless of the difficult budget decisions the city has to make in the coming days.”
Following the vote, Walker expressed his relief the city was able to work out a solution to save the organization.
“The partnership of Alton Main Street will survive,” he said. “That was our goal from the beginning.”
Under the direction of McGibany, AMS 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.
In 1995, the organization began receiving $25,000 annually from the city. By 2006, it was down to $15,000 and McGibany negotiated an increase of $3,000. She questioned why the city was looking at eliminating her entire budget rather than cuts to other programs that she says could take the hit and survive.
To retain a Main Street designation, a group must employ a full-time director if the population is over 5,000. With this new proposal, it looks as if that will continue.
McGibany says while she understands the need for public safety, she does not want anyone to get the impression that AMS and the work it does for the city is “non-essential.”
“The community clearly demonstrated that Alton Main Street is definitely essential,” she said. “We have been talking for a while that Alton needs a self-esteem boost. This is about building community and building pride, and that is directly behind the work that we do.
“We are a fundamental need.”
In a previous letter to the editor, McGibany said, “While AMS is best known for our outstanding special events such as the Farmers’ and 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.”
The Alton Main Street Board of Directors will meet Wednesday, July 1, to discuss its options and determine the best avenue for the organization to take from this point forward. It currently operates on an $80,000 annual budget.