Hammond budgeting change could take a chunk of funds from the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center _lowres

Photo provided by GoogleMaps -- Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center

A proposed change in the allocation of Hammond’s video bingo revenues could put nearly 40 percent of the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center’s annual budget on the chopping block by forcing the museum to compete for city general fund money.

Hammond receives 20 percent of its video bingo halls’ net earnings, then gives a quarter of its take to the children’s museum. The rest of the city’s take is reserved for capital improvement projects.

Under an ordinance introduced June 2, the city would no longer dedicate any of its bingo tax revenues to the museum. Instead, the full 20 percent would go toward the city’s infrastructure needs.

The City Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the measure Tuesday.

Lacy Landrum, Hammond’s director of administration, said the change represents “the best fiscal policy for the city as a whole.”

“The state has itself tied into knots with past legislation placing funds in lock boxes accessible only for special purposes or entities,” Landrum said in an email. “We should not do the same thing to the City of Hammond.”

Landrum said the administration is not suggesting that the city should cut funding to the museum altogether. Instead, she said, they’re hoping the City Council will “partner with” the children’s museum in the same way it partners with other nonprofits providing citywide services — by making annual appropriations from the city’s general fund.

Nonprofits receiving appropriations in 2014-15 are the Hammond Youth Education Alliance, $50,000; the Tangipahoa African-American Heritage Museum, $50,000; Tangipahoa Voluntary Council on Aging, $45,000; Crime Stoppers of Tangipahoa, $12,000; and CASA, $10,000.

“These small appropriations are allocated annually and evaluated for their effectiveness,” Landrum said. “They are not automatic dedications in ordinance form.”

The Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center, by contrast, was projected to receive about $180,000 in bingo revenues in 2015, Executive Director Anette Kirylo said Friday.

How much the museum would receive if the money had to come from the city’s general fund is a question Kirylo said she has tried to get answered — to no avail thus far.

“I’ve talked to all the council members and the mayor, trying to find out what they have in mind, and none could give me a straight answer,” Kirylo said. “They have said they will continue to support the Discovery Center, but we don’t know how much or for how long.”

Kirylo said it will be more difficult for the city to guarantee its support for the museum through general fund appropriations, which are put at risk any time the city faces a deficit.

Councilman Jason Hood said the council typically stays within the parameters set by the administration’s proposed budget. That means that increasing funding to one organization or department would require taking funds from another, making the process inherently more competitive — and more political.

“It will become a political situation where, every year, they would have to make a pitch to the city on what they need,” Hood said. “I do think it’s possible they (the children’s museum) could lose some of their funding.”

Kirylo said the city’s 2015-16 general fund budget, which is also slated for adoption Tuesday, does not include funding for the children’s museum. That’s potentially troubling for Kirylo, who said the museum’s budget is set by the calendar year and was based on receiving bingo revenues through December.

The museum’s budget already took a hit when citywide bingo revenues fell. The museum’s cut, which was about $250,000 just last year, has dwindled faster than it could be offset by self-generated revenues from admission fees, field trips, sponsorships and donations, she said.

“We have made adjustments already, but I don’t think we can operate with less than we are receiving now,” she said.

Kirylo said some city officials have told her they believe it’s unfair for the children’s museum to have a dedicated funding stream while other nonprofits must either lobby for general fund appropriations or work sessions in the bingo halls to get a cut of the halls’ net earnings.

“I understand that,” Kirylo said. “I understand that for the city to be successful, it must cover all the needs the city has. And we need all our nonprofits. Otherwise, the city would be under even more pressure to provide those services. But in our case, I can only speak about what we are going through.”

Kirylo said the children’s museum faces more-rigorous restrictions than any of the other nonprofits because of a cooperative endeavor agreement with the city that underpins the museum’s public funding.

That agreement requires the museum to undergo annual audits, comply with public bid laws and document expenses before receiving reimbursements through the bingo revenues, she said.

The museum is also unique in its combination of economic and social utility, Kirylo said. The Discovery Center has drawn more than 250,000 people to the city from 25 parishes and five counties in Mississippi, she said. Those families spend the night in Hammond hotels, eat in Hammond restaurants and shop in Hammond stores, she said.

The museum also provides outreach programs to help fill gaps in the public education system and works with Southeastern Louisiana University’s College of Education to provide student-teachers another way to do their teaching and observation hours, she said.

Hood said he doesn’t necessarily think the city should be in the business of funding nonprofits, but he also believes the children’s museum provides economic benefits in addition to its direct services to the community that justify public funding.

“I guess that means I’m kind of arguing out of both sides of my mouth on this one, but that’s my prerogative to do, and at least I’m honest enough to say it,” he said.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.