HAMMOND — Impassioned pleas weren’t enough to stop the Hammond City Council from stripping the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center of its dedicated portion of the city’s video bingo tax collections.
The council voted 4-1 Tuesday to amend the ordinance that for a decade has funneled some of the city’s video bingo money to the children’s museum. All of those funds will now go toward capital improvements.
Councilman Jason Hood, who had said changing the law would make the funding process more political for the museum, cast the lone vote against the measure.
The museum, which counted on the bingo revenues for 37 percent of its budget this year, will now have to lobby for general fund appropriations each year or work sessions at the bingo halls, like other Hammond nonprofits, as well as increase its self-generated revenues to fill the gap.
Lacy Landrum, the city’s director of administration, said the law change represents the best fiscal policy for the city. Hammond should not put its revenues into dedicated “lock boxes” out of reach for other city needs, she said.
Donna Miller, president of the museum’s board of directors, said before the vote that city officials had assured her the law change would not mean the end of city funding for the museum.
Exactly what level of financial support the city will provide, however, is yet to be seen.
The city’s 2015-16 budget, which also was approved Tuesday, includes $181,000 for the children’s museum, but that line item represents bingo revenues budgeted under the city ordinances that existed when the budget was drafted.
What number will be following a budget amendment in the coming weeks will depend on how negotiations go for the Discovery Center’s new cooperative endeavor agreement with the city.
Leon Philpot, the Discovery Center’s assistant director, said museum officials had asked “countless times” how much funding the city would give the museum if the ordinance passed, but there was no answer.
“It seems to me that until we hear what the city is willing to appropriate, or can appropriate, then you and we, the citizens of this city, have no foundation to make a fair and equitable decision,” Philpot said, calling for the measure to be tabled. “We’ve already suffered a loss of revenue as this funding has declined, and we’ve made the cuts necessary. … But there is a limit to what we can continue to absorb, especially on short notice.”
Landrum tried to allay concerns by saying the administration was not seeking to zero out all funds for the children’s museum.
In addition, city staff will work with the museum to secure grants, she said.
Councilman Mike Williams said that help could prove to be a “win-win” for both sides.
“It’s my hope that what you’re looking at in a decrease in funding may actually be an increase when we start looking at grants,” Williams told museum board members.
Kathy Montecino, a Discovery Center board member and former City Council member, said she is extremely disappointed in Tuesday’s vote.
“I feel sure the mayor will work with us, but we’ve lost our funding through the ordinance, so after this administration, we surely have our concerns,” Montecino said. “We don’t know what the future will hold for us now.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, or call her at (225) 336-6981.