Facing COVID-19 related revenue hits, the City of Manhattan foresees some tough calls in allocating funds to outside agencies.
City Commissioners Tuesday heard fiscal year 2021 requests from the various organizations Manhattan provides funds. Those groups range from the Manhattan Public Library and Manhattan Arts Center to business districts and the city’s multitude of social service agencies.
All requests were flat or decreased from 2020’s figures, altogether amounting over $4.2 million. Even that amount, though, is uncertain as the city awaits April’s sales tax receipts — when the region felt the brunt of pandemic-prompted stay-at-home orders. Sales tax figures for April will come in July, the reports are on a two month delay.
Manhattan administrative staff have previously shared expectations of $3 million to $8 million in revenue shortfalls in 2020 as well as a $2.7 million funding gap in the general fund for 2021. Property tax collections in Riley County are just 2 percent below the usual rate at this point of the year, better than initially anticipated.
Multiple commissioners including Linda Morse were reluctant to make a call on the end funding amounts without more fiscal data.
“There’s going to be some sacrifices and we’re going to have to pick very carefully, […] it’s kind of up in the air,” she says. “And if we’re not going to be doing some of these things until July, I want to take it all in at this point but I’m not ready to make a determination.”
Mayor Pro Tem Wynn Butler, though, says it’s time for the city to make tough choices facing their budget reality. Butler’s previously advocated to hold outside agencies that are not chartered to receive a certain level of funding — such as the library — to just 1 mill.
“The two lowest things on my priority list are, in fact, the Manhattan Arts Center and the Wolf House,” Butler says. “And if we have to cut funds, I’d cut all their funds all the way down to zero — and I donated to both of them at the [Grow Green] Match Day at the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation.”
City Manager Ron Fehr says that non-profits, social services and other outside agencies can qualify for CARES and SPARK funds for COVID-19 relief, saying that’s a possibility to keep them whole despite a tough budget picture. Butler added he would support that if the funds could be allocated as such. Mayor Usha Reddi also encouraged businesses and non-profits to document their COVID-related expenses for potential reimbursement.
Commissioner Mark Hatesohl also questioned whether the success of the GMCF’s match day — collecting over $912,000 in donations, breaking last year’s record by over $150,000 — could help alleviate some pressure.
“A lot of the agencies had really good years on Grow Green and they got the money that they could spend right away, not just part of it,” says Hatesohl. “That will help a little bit, but I understand on the other hand they’ve lost a lot of their fundraising capabilities. So it may be all a wash and there may not actually be any extra money by the time you get to what they’ve lost plus what they’re getting from the private sector.”
Reddi adds that physical distancing guidelines and occupancy limits have reduced the number of volunteers and staff available to help out in many agencies.
“Fewer people are having to pick up a larger load of that work for some very vulnerable and needy populations,” Reddi says. “This is the time that they probably need this funding more than ever before.”
Commissioners meet again next Tuesday for another budget work session.
Board Chair Sarah Barrett says they evaluate the city’s social service needs and review agencies based on effectiveness and meeting expressed goals.
“We do this by performing site visits twice a year, generating written reports and maintaining a close relationship with agency staff and their clients,” Barrett says. “These agencies are essential and fill an undeniable gap in our community. And while providing their wide-ranging and comprehensive services to clients, they must also continuously seek the necessary resources to sufficiently meet the needs of their own operations — often time juggling client and staff needs all the while making very difficult decisions.”
Barrett says the board was very intentional in their considerations, looking to strike a balance with the “ever increasing needs” of the city’s agencies amid the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide social unrest with Manhattan’s budget challenges.
Hatesohl also charged Barrett with looking into child care regulations small providers find onerous to bring to the state legislature for potential remedy. Barrett agreed to do so with Hatesohl’s support.
Butler also encouraged residents to tack on a $1 donation to their water bill, which goes toward social service funding. He says the amount won’t be noticed by customers, but will bring in over $100,000 in additional revenue for the agencies.
Special Alcohol Fund:
Board Chair Jurdene Coleman says just like other agencies, they are anticipating a COVID-related hit as well.
The fund draws its revenue from a special tax on caterers and other institutions that sell alcoholic beverages by the drink. The revenue that comes in via that tax is the extend of the money they have available for agency funding.
“That is always a challenge,” says Coleman. “We really can’t come to you and ask you to give us anything more than what we have.”
Coleman says the board decided to honor the same allocated amounts from 2020’s budget unless an agency requested less — as was the case with Riley County Community Corrections Juvenile Services. Additionally, she says the Wonder Workshop was unable to get its application in time due to the death of its founder Richard Pitts.
“We encourage them to return for future years because we were all very excited to be able to fund some personnel and some activities for that agency.”
Coleman also expects a decrease in 2022 funding, but they are waiting to see how the rest of the year’s quarters play out.
Manhattan Public Library:
Library Director Linda Knupp says they are holding salaries and employee benefits flat in 2021 and are not increasing any property tax derived funding. She says 2020 carry-overs will accommodate any increase in insurance or health benefits.
Additionally, Knupp says non-tax sources of revenue are also expected to dip — such as overdue fines and endowment funds from the Foundation and Friends of the Library.
“We really don’t know what that might look like in 2021,” says Knupp. “We have some work to do to figure out alternate ways to raise funds.”
Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency:
After receiving federal COVID-19 relief funding, the Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency will return all fiscal year 2020 local government funding.
Director Anne Smith Tuesday told Manhattan City Commissioners they received $2.8 million in CARES Act money for its urban services, leading the board to make this decision. Receiving funds from the city as well as K-State and Riley County, Manhattan will get back nearly $130,000 in funds committed to the agency.
“So in total we’ll be returning over $300,000 to the community throughout our service areas including in the rural program as well.”
Smith also says they are reducing their 2021 requests to each body by 25 percent — equating to an over $32,000 drop from 2020’s request.
“We felt this was a really important way we can contribute to the challenges our community is facing at this time,” says Smith.
Smith says buses are still running, noting that physical distancing and mask requirements remain in effect. She says prior to the pandemic, the agency was on track for another record year.
Downtown Manhattan Inc:
Executive Director Gina Scroggs requested $78,000, flat with 2020, though notes 2020 only has enough revenue to operate through October.
“Without those funds, DMI will cease to exist,” says Scroggs. “Without that, you lose your small business advocacy, certainly the protection of the $200 million investment that’s been made over the last 30, 35 years, being a liasion for mutual concerns and initatives — a lot goes away if DMI were not to be here.”
Despite that, the area has seen some job growth and a net postive of 9 new businesses in the district. She says if funding comes through at the end of the year they would like to do what is possible in the current health situation to bring back normalcy and push Manhattan’s regional draw.
“If we can offer some low key, easy going, socially enjoyable but socially distant events in the Downtown neighborhood I think we can generate some revenue down here,” says Scroggs.
If the pandemic has not improved at the end of the year, Scroggs envisions a public awareness campaign to publicize online shopping and service opportunities within the district.
Aggieville Business Association:
Executive Director Dennis Cook also requested a budget flat with 2020, a total of $60,000.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on, we’ve shown some tremendous improvement this year and we continue to strive to be the best shopping district in Manhattan.”
Cook says they are fairing well amid many construction projects in the district, though anticipate that getting more tough as students return.
“We believe that the continuous and ongoing improvements in Aggieville are going to help drive economic growth in the region and meet the community’s desire for a more vibrant shopping, dining and entertainment district.”
Manhattan Arts Center:
Executive Director Penny Senften requested $43,700, also flat with 2020, noting their closure lost them between $10,000 and $12,000 in revenue drawn from performances.
Many school-based programs, instrument repair and performances had to be rethought, canceled or postponed and the revenue impact also reduced schoarship opportunities.
“Admissions have dropped down to 10 percent instead of 15 percent,” she says. “That’s going to continue to hurt us quite a lot.”
Senften says a PPP loan of $45,000 through June allowed them to continue paying staff. She says a $20,000 grant for the next fiscal year from the Kansas Creative Arts Industry Commission was also awarded to the MAC. They also received a $50,000 anonymous donation and $20,000 bequest — which has helped keep them afloat this year.
“Many of our programs are, I think, unique in the area,” says Senften. “People come to us because they can’t get these anywhere else.”
Representatives from the Riley County Historical Museum did not present Tuesday, but sent a letter with their $5,000 flat request for 2021.
Director Cheryl Collins writes the Wolf House Museum “offers high quality local history exhibits and educational programming for residents, school children and visitors, free of charge.”
“City support will be used toward fundign operating expenses of the Museum.”