Escambia County

Arts Council finances are a mess

December 18, 2009

The problem with the Arts Council of Northwest Florida is not that it “over-allocated” funds. In documents received by the IN, it appears the arts organization was not giving its member organizations, which includes the Pensacola Symphony, Pensacola Little Theater, Pensacola Children’s Chorus and others, the funds that had been given to the Arts Council solely for the purpose of grants to its members.

There was no over-allocation of the government funds- the allocations approved by the county and city simply weren’t reaching the intended recipients. Now it could be the Arts Council over-allocated funds that it expected to raise from its fundraisers and other sources.

The Miscellaneous Appropriations Agreement between Escambia County and the Arts Council, dated March 5, 2009 signed by executive director Catherine Guin, gives the Arts Council $100,500—$40000 for salaries, $60,000 Grants to Escambia Organizations and $500 Economic Impact Study. There is no overallocation – the money is for $60000 for grants and the reports submitted to the County show only $60,000.12 being given to the members from Oct. 1, 2008-Sept. 30, 2009:

Artel $1250.04
Ballet Pensacola $7,500
Belmont $1250.04
Children’s Chorus $799.92
Perdido Bay Tribe $1250.04
PLT $12,105
PMA $10,040.04
Symphony $10,683.96

The problem is these organizations didn’t receive the checks. They got a few checks, but several are still owed money.

The county funds the $100,500 over 12 months. Arts Council sends a report of its disbursements -showing checks to these groups- and the county reimburses them. But the checks aren’t being mailed to the groups.

The City has a similar problem and should be auditing the books, too. The Miscellaneous Appropriations Agreement between the City of Pensacola and the Arts Council of Northwest Florida is dated Oct. 1, 2008. It’s signed by Dina Thorsen and Catherine Guin. The funds are to be used only for “Arts Organizations” – $60,000. The City gives them the money in one lump sum in October. At the end of the fiscal year, the Arts Council gives the City a report.

Artel: $1,250.04
Ballet Pensacola: $7,500
Belmont: $1250.04
Children’s Chorus: $799.92
Choral Society: $1250.04
Fiesta Barbershop Chorus: $1250.04
Jazz Society: $1,250.04
Pensacola Opera: $11.370.96
Perdido Bay Tribe: $1,250.04
PLT: $12105.00
Total: $60,000.12

Again the groups aren’t getting all the checks.

We are also hearing that there has been a problem for years with the Arts Council sending out checks that were dated several months before. For example, a group might receive in November a check dated in August or September. The groups tolerated it, but in the last fiscal year 2008-2009, the checks stopped all together. And that’s when the county commissioners started to get complaints.

Artel combined allocation $2500, amt owed $624.94
Ballet Pensacola $15,000, owed $3750
Children’s Chorus $2500, owed $1433.44
Choral Society $2500, owed $833
Pensacola Symphony $21,367.92, owed $5341.98
PMA $20,080.08, owed $3,346.68
PLT, $24,210, owed $4035

The audit by the Clerk of Courts/Comptroller will verify the information I’ve been given and will give us a fuller picture.

On the surface, it does appear that tax dollars that were approved for grants to arts groups were instead used to float the day-to-day operations of the Arts Council. As fundraising declined the Arts Council had no mechanism to cover checks to the arts groups and instead sat on the checks. As the revenue hole grew, the Arts Council then needed the next year’s allocation from the City of Pensacola to pay checks written for the prior fiscal year. Then the hole got too big to cover up.

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