February 5, 2010

Filling Naperville’s Budget Gap May Mean Less Money for Special Events

Members of Naperville’s City Council recently proposed several ways to fill the city budget gap. One of them is to divert a quarter of the current one percent food and beverage tax into the city’s general fund. This tax is currently used to fund special events and cultural amenities and is often referred to as the SECA fund.

Among the events and programs that could potentially receive less money are fundraising events for not-for-profits, such as the NCO Youth and Family Services annual Spring Run.

Ron Hume NCO Youth and Family Services explains, “The SECA money is what they use to pay for city services that we use for the run. For example police presence and they close off the road. If they take that money away from us, that would make it very hard for us to do some of these events.”

SECA provides partial funding for programs and events like Ribfest, the DuPage Children’s Museum, Naperville Community Television and Kids Kabaret, to name a few.

The SECA fund has grown much larger than ever expected, generating just under three million dollars. Some council members say those dollars should go towards the budget gap.

“SECA is a nice to have, it is not a must have,” Councilman Grant Wherli explains. “So I cannot in one day tell the police department that I’m sorry but you have to layoff two individuals and then turn around and spend three million dollars on things that frankly aren’t core to the city business.”

In Fiscal Year 2010, the council used more than nine hundred thousand dollars, or almost a third of the SECA funds, for what they call “existing agreements.” These agreements include Carillon debt and maintenance, the 4th of July fireworks and Riverwalk maintenance. Some council members believe the amount allocated to fund those services should not change.

Councilman Scott Fieseler explains, “Those ongoing commitments will be maintained where we accept applications and then our Cultural Advisory Board will make recommendations. And that allocation of money is going to be reduced.”

If Naperville fully funds existing SECA commitments, that leaves less than two million remaining in the SECA fund. With some council members wanting to use seven hundred thousand dollars off the top from SECA, to balance the budget gap, that leaves a much smaller pie for SECA applicants to divide.

Cultural Advisory Commissioner Becky Anderson points out the board will have to take a much harder look at the applications this year. “We are going to take a real close look at these events and make sure they are going to benefit a lot of people.”Anderson said.

The whole idea of diverting SECA funds to balance a general budget shortfall doesn’t sit right with some business owners, who originally agreed to the tax if it would fund events that would in turn bring more traffic to their establishments.
Jimmy Bergeron , owner of Jimmy’s Grill in downtown Naperville, is among these business owners.

“I can’t draw a correlation on putting a food and beverage tax on a small single business eating in our city to support the general fund when especially the businesses are already heavily taxed on top of the normal property tax to support the city. “ Bergeron said. “This is not the time to start switching things over. This is a slippery slope.”

The Cultural Advisory Board holds a public forum to discuss the SECA applications March 13th and 14th, then make their recommendations to City Council. The city will finalize the budget and SECA grants allocations before the 2011 fiscal year starts May first.


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