Holloway: We are not broke, but corrective action must be taken

Mayor A.J. Holloway says he agrees with Councilmember Clark Griffith that the city doesn’t currently have money to give to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, but the mayor says he wouldn’t say the city is broke, either.

Griffith made the comments while reviewing the financial challenges facing the city during a public meeting this morning. The City Council later tabled the requests from Ohr — $370,000 in management fees for 2007, 2008 and 2009, plus $20,000 a month once the new museum opens — pending completion of an annual audit of city finances. Museum leaders also notified City Council members that in May the city would be expected to pay insurance premiums on the museum buildings, which could be as high as $205,000 a year.

“Clark did an excellent job of summarizing the requests being made by the museum,” Holloway said after the meeting, “and I agree that the city doesn’t have money right now to give the museum, but I don’t think I would characterize the city as being broke.

“We are not broke. We are financially solvent, but, as I told council members last year and again last week, we need to take corrective action. We need to reduce spending. We need to stop the bleeding.”

Holloway and Director of Administration David Staehling have cautioned council members that the city’s general fund — which had approached $50 million in the years before Hurricane Katrina — is now about $14 million, which includes as much as $5 million tied up on rebuilding projects awaiting FEMA reimbursements.

“We’ve seen this general fund balance — which is the money we have to pay our bills — constantly decline each year in the wake of deficit budgeting,” Holloway said. “We cannot continue that trend, and we plan on formally approaching the City Council shortly with measures to help correct the situation.”

Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum: Leaders of the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, at the City Council’s request, also briefed councilmembers on their anticipated increases in funding requests, beginning in Spring 2012, when a new seafood museum could be opening.

Museum Director Robin David said the museum expects to seek $120,000 a year for a management agreement — double the current $60,000 a year — and museum leaders hope that the city would increase the current $24,000 a year advertising agreement, which pays the museum to include the city logo on schooner sails, by $36,000 a year, to $60,000 a year, which would include a $3,000 monthly stipend for schooner maintenance. The museum also seeks to have the city continue funding of $8,000 a year for its Sea ‘n’ Sail Camp, as well as funding for utilities, maintenance and insurance of the proposed new museum.

Council President Bill Stallworth has suggested in two recent meetings that the city consider setting aside property taxes — or “millage” — to fund the museums on a regular basis.