Arts Groups: Town Budget Cuts Devastating

Huntington's 2012 budget has left arts and cultural programs searching for solutions.

If culture can be defined as that which is excellent in the arts, Huntington has plenty of it. But unfortunately, maintaining such a status quo seldom comes cheap.

The town's cherished arts and cultural society, for years the benefactor of a generous economic climate, now finds itself in an era of uncertainty as a troubled economy and stagnant property values have forced the need for essential services and lower taxes to the top of the pecking order in terms of town funding.

"It's disappointing but times are tough," said Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum Executive Director Paul DeOrsay. 

The museum and other organizations are bracing for $254,000 in approved across-the-board town budget cuts next year to arts and non-profit funding which for decades have helped define Huntington.

As it stands, the Whaling Museum will lose $15,000 in 2012 from its once-consistent $25,000 town grant which it has counted on for at least 10 years, according to DeOrsay.

"This one was tried and true but there are no guarantees in this business," said DeOrsay. "The town has done great by us for a long time and I'm hopeful that they will be able to do it again."

As the economy started to decline in 2008, the museum adjusted by playing it "close to the belt" and stripping down services and staffing as state and county grants began to dry up, according to DeOrsay. 

"We're keeping the doors open and keeping the lights on, but some of the good stuff is what slips," DeOrsay said.

Half of museum funding comes from grants and memberships with the other 50 percent coming from earned revenue and investments which have also suffered as a result of the economy, according to DeOrsay.

The museum will see more than 50 percent of annual town grant funding eliminated in 2012.

Concerned Town Board members, namely Susan Berland, Frank Petrone and Glenda Jackson, have vowed to search for funding solutions in the coming months, according to DeOrsay, sympathetic of the gravity of the .

"They don't promise anything, and I can understand that. I wouldn't promise anything in their shoes and I certainly take them at their word that they will try," said DeOrsay. "They have a lot of things to weigh." 

Things could still change, according to town officials, who are saddled with $8.7 million in increased mandated costs, pending employee contract agreements, pension contribution questions, rising health insurance premiums and high energy prices.

"We don't spend hoping that dollars will come in," said Petrone earlier this month. "We plan for that possible rainy day."

The budget pain is being shared equally, according to A.J. Carter, the town's information officer. "In very, very difficult budget times there are some really hard decisions which need to be made."

Town employees are being asked to contribute to health care costs and total spending is being cut by $10 million in 2012 to maintain an imperative set by Petrone to not raise general fund taxes, according to Carter, who noted that things could improve.

The Town Board voted down the preliminary budget 3-2 on Nov. 9 causing dissention among board members reagarding the significant cuts to the arts.

"There's a possibility that this will be revisited and some of the cuts will be restored," said Carter.

Set to take effect Jan. 1, the scaled down 2012 town operating budget which was  Nov. 20 will nearly eliminate the 47th annual Huntington Summer Arts Festival, according to the Huntington Arts Council which stages the popular summer series. 

Also hit hard is the Huntington Historical Society, who's board voted Monday to operate in a budget deficit as a result of the town cuts.

"Do we cut now or do we go ahead with what is clearly a $22,000 deficit and see where we can go from there?" said acting Huntington Historical Society Coordinator Toby Kissam, who has worked without pay for nearly four years since retiring as a math teacher at Harborfields High School.  

Founded in 1903, the Historical Society once employed a full-time director and full-time curator — but times have changed. Employee hours have been slashed as a result of the cuts and the uncertain future of the century-old organization's programs raises concern among members.

"If you continue to spend money that you don't take in ... you're eventually out of business," said Kissam. "We had to cut some hours but have not cut positions yet."

In recent years, the Historical Society has been granted $55,000 by the town. In 2012, town funding was cut to $25,000 — a more than 50 percent decrease.

With an annual operating budget of approximately $350,000 to run four Huntington properties pay bills and staff operations, $30,000 is significant to an already understaffed organization which now employs a part-time crew of seven.

Kissam said the situation will be reevaluated in six months, but he warned against the possible elimination of decades of historical progress.

"If you stop it for a couple of years you are not going to get it back," said Kissam, who suggested the Town Board spend money for things that maintain Huntington's public interest.

"They are well aware of the devastating effect it's going to have on us and our programs," said Kissam. "They are in a quandary, obviously, and are looking for revenue sources ... hopefully they will find them." 

But in the meantime, the HHS is faced with the daunting task of raising nearly 20 percent of its annual operating budget to maintain programs and pay bills with less help from the town.

Facing $1,000 in lost funding, Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society representatives say they feel somewhat lucky, but disappointed.

"It seems as though our town supervisor and Board have done everything in their power to promote the arts and historic preservation," said society president Pamela Setchell. "Then all of a sudden, it's like you are pulling the carpet out from underneath."

Because the lighthouse is situated over the water, with no land-based central location, Setchell said the cuts, although small in dollar amount, will be harder for them to make up because of the logistics and fund raising factors unique to the lighthouse.

Gone is 20 percent of the $5,000 which the Lighthouse group annually receives from the town to help alleviate costs towards their annual budget of about $40,000.

Setchell said she is grateful that the town has written her organization in for grants in the 14 years since she became president, but the cuts are taking their toll on workers at non-profit organizations like hers and others throughout Huntington.

"Now, they just put a noose around their neck," Setchell said. "It seems as though they've gone and taken 10 steps forward and now they are going to take 17 backwards."

Dylan Skolnick November 27, 2011 at 12:52 AM
There has always been an extremely wealthy elite, but the gap has shrunk and grown over the years. However, the past thirty years has seen a drastic growth in income inequity. According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of Americans in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. The equivalent number for the richest 0.1 percent rose 400 percent. There is a point where the middle class starts to disappear and America becomes a third word country.
Jerry Hannon November 27, 2011 at 01:06 AM
Good grief! I don't whether that is Denial 101, or something more insidious. While I might dispute whether the split is 99%/1%, or 97%/3%. I do not dispute the fact that there is a super-rich class which has largely gotten there on the backs of the less fortunate. Certainly there are some super rich (like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet) who are not only responsible citizens, but lead the way toward responsibility, but that is all too rare. And as for those poor saps who "overleveraged," who do you think came up with the schemes that encouraged people to stretch unreasonably, and then came up with the "clever" asset-backed security structures that took advantage of the consumer debt paper created by the over-leveraging, and then pocketed huge fees when the ABS were bundled and sold to foolish investors in the US and overseas -- who were themselves misled on the "quality" of that debt paper -- and then, when it all exploded and investors lost money, and governments propping up the interconnected system lost money, and taxpayers therefore lost money, the "clever" investment bankers and the politicians they are in bed with smiled, and safely walked away, leaving their fat accounts safe and sound, while the rest of us struggled. To condemn the poor souls who over-leveraged, or who did what they were told and studied for careers now on the decline, or who found themselves out and with little to show for it when the economy tanked, is callous and disingenuous.
Jerry Hannon November 27, 2011 at 03:22 AM
Paul (Paul who, by the way?) doesn't let facts get in the way of his biases and hatred for President Obama. If it wasn't for the massive Bush tax cuts, at the time he also put the United States into one unnecessary war in Iraq (after virtually ignoring the very necessary war in Afghanistan actually connected to 9/11), this country wouldn't be in the deep hole it now finds itself in. Also, "Paul" may be unaware -- unless he is just ignoring another fact -- that Social Security increases (and I am a retiree who needs his Social Security payments) are based upon a Cost of Living increase formula created years before Obama ever came into office. To get an increase over the past two years, the inflation rate would have had to have been higher than it was over the past few years. Another interesting fact that "Paul" did not mention is that there WILL be a Social Security increase of 3.6% in 2012, solely because the inflation over time has triggered that; this will be partially offset by increases in the Medicare Part B premium, which increase is still much lower than the commercial plan I have in effect for my wife through my former employer, as is true for most commercial insurance policies. The radical right is trying to distort and lie in order to frighten retirees -- or as "Paul" calls us, "the elderly" -- into believing that up is down, and Obama is bad, and right is wrong. Sorry, radical right, but this "elderly" person isn't falling for your lies.
Jerry Hannon November 27, 2011 at 03:31 AM
Both Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffet are leading the way with The Giving Pledge (http://givingpledge.org) by which they, and other very wealthy Americans, are pledging to give at least half of their wealth to charity. Patch readers may also get more information about their philanthropic efforts at the following site, http://philanthropy.com/section/Gates-Buffett-Giving-Pledge/461/. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation have been the subject of numerous articles on charitable efforts around the world in fighting disease, and Mr. Gates has become well known for efforts in reforming the US educational system (and boy does it need reform), aided by his generous grants.
Patrick Aievoli November 27, 2011 at 05:46 AM
I agree especially as an educator for 23 years. But i do believe that if you rely on someone else to provide funding (although it is our money) and to make decisions it will always be a problem. Focus on building a separate solution that others cannot determine the allocation of, it will work and cannot be taken away.
Dylan Skolnick November 27, 2011 at 07:18 AM
You can argue about whether certain ultra-rich people are more ethical than other in their class, but that doesn't change the essential fact that this extremely small group of Americans has taken control of our government. This will not change unless large numbers of working-class and middle-class Americans force the government to pay attention to their needs. The first step is to stop the current effort to destroy the social safety net. Like all "one-size-fits-all" solutions, the idea that government can never do anything as well as the business sector is a dangerous oversimplification. There are some things that can be best accomplished by private enterprise, and others that are done better by the government. Providing a social safety net can only be done by the government. The idea that we can cut our way back to financial prosperity is bad economics, and will only send us deeper into an deflationary downward spiral.
Dan Ciccone November 27, 2011 at 02:49 PM
Dylan, Thank you... Well said.
Clifford Sondock November 27, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Dylan, a nation where wealthy individuals and/or businesses control or influence Government is characterized as fascist. The best way to fight fascism is by reducing the power of Government over business, limiting Government power to simply enforce contracts and protect property rights. Then wealthy individuals and businesses have little ability to control Government to provide an unfair advantage over competiton. The only way for business to gain is to compete for customers in a free market. As far as "providing a safety net", Government does a terrible job of creating an environment that produces wealth for a nation's citizens. Keep in mind that Government does not produce wealth but only confiscates wealth from those that produce and redistributes wealth to those that mooch. Capitalism directs captial, labor an natural resources to produce exponential gains in living standards for everyone...not necessarily equally. Capitalism "raises all ships in a rising tide." This is the best way to enable private charitable institutions to "provide a safety net.
bug November 27, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Nobody is condemning anybody! I feel for these people. However one of the causes of this economic recession, depression or whatever you want to call it was irresponsibility regarding finances. You can either learn from it or bury your head in the sand. Should someone who was responsible pay off someone elses irresponsibility? At least those in the hole had the biggest TVs and houses with the 75K swimming pools. While many others did not. If I am in a restaurant and order a $8 burger and the guy next to me orders surf and turf with a $200 bottle of champagne, now he cant pay and they pass the hat. So my $8 burger costs me 25. Thats is not the answer. As far as the loans being prepackaged and sold, buyer beware. Its investing which means you can make money or lose money. Any illegality should be addressed by the authorities. Should Madoff victims be reimbursed by the taxpayer. I mean the SEC investigated him numerous times. You can go on and on about it forever.
Jerry Hannon November 27, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Amazing; more distortions from Paul (whomever). I don't know about Bill Gates, but Warren Buffet is one of the leaders of those responsible very-wealthy citizens who say that they, and other very-wealthy Americans, should pay higher levels of taxes; they also say it is immoral that the middle class and lower classes, on a total taxes to total income basis, pay a higher share of their annual income than the middle class and lower socioeconomic groups of Americans. Anyone focusing solely upon the income tax rate, and either ignoring or deliberately avoiding discussion of all levels of taxation (which disproportionately affect middle class and below ), is not being honest with us.
Patrick Aievoli November 27, 2011 at 10:04 PM
At what point do you think we might get back to solving funding the arts in Huntington? This is how nothing gets done, keep going.
Pam Robinson (Editor) November 27, 2011 at 10:38 PM
Please stay on topic. Thanks.
Jerry Hannon November 27, 2011 at 11:53 PM
Leaving behind the Church of Ayn Ran, and returning to the topic, I am afraid that our current economy does not permit the proper funding assistance for the arts. While I disagree with Mr. Sondock's usual libertarian philosophy, the removal of funding from the Town's budget is simply an economic reality that does not appear to have any rapid solution. On the other hand, I am not satisfied that there is not some fat in the Petrone/Cuthbertson budget which could be excised and redirected to the arts. But, I have no evidence of my belief.
Clifford Sondock November 28, 2011 at 12:50 AM
Jerry, we agree that you have no evidence for your belief. In principle, I believe that Government has no legitimate purpose to finance the arts or cultural activities. The Arts and cultural activities are rightfully financed through voluntary private contributions. So, regardless whether the Huntington budget has any "surplus", taxpayer money should be used only for necessary public infrastructure and services.
Dan Ciccone November 28, 2011 at 04:18 AM
What about a municpal policy that assures the public good? Mr. Sondock, I believe you are making a very subjective value judgement regarding the arts - "necessary public services" could include the arts in the opinion of many.
Clifford Sondock November 29, 2011 at 01:10 AM
A premise of a public good is that if the Government did not provide the good or service, the good or service would not be provided. Additionally, the necessity of the public good to everyone must be compared to the cost. In the case of The Arts and some cultural even(s) as a public good, the assumption is that the private sector including charitable organizations would not provide the "arts or cultural event." I objectively argue that what Government determines as arts and cultural events for public consumption is subjective. Therefore, a select few will use the arts and cultural events at the cost of everyone. Conversely, if a large protion of the population would use the arts or cultural event, then the private sector would likely provide the arts or cultural event. Moreover, Government has limited resources which is confiscated from the citizens. It is rather arrogant for a select few citizens to determine what arts and cultural events the whole of a community will value. I view Government's primary responsibility as the arbiter of disputes, protector of property rights and the enforcer of contracts.
Dylan Skolnick November 29, 2011 at 04:44 AM
You may view those as the government's primary responsibilities, but many of us think that would make this a pretty pathetic excuse for a country. The government has numerous responsibilities, and one of them is supporting the arts. Corporations do a lot of things well, but supporting the arts is not one of them. Yes, a comparatively select few citizens determine what art is funded, but their track record is fairly good. Popular art can be great, but great art is not always popular. A country where popularity was the sole measure of art would be depressing place. Don't believe me, just turn on your TV. Government support is one of the vital ways that the creation of important art can be financed, whether it proves popular or not. This is a use of my tax dollars that makes me happy, unlike many of the other ways that the government spends my money. I view the government's primary responsibility as providing the services that corporations cannot provide (or do very poorly), like the social safety net, health insurance, regulation of corporations, protecting the environment, enforcing the law, and yes, funding the arts.
Dan Ciccone November 29, 2011 at 04:53 AM
Cilfford... I am talking the "public good", as in "promote the general Welfare" As in WE THE PEOPLE of the United States in order to form a more perfect union..., promote the general welfare. I am talking about sound public policy that provides cultural opportunities in local municpalities. I believe the government needs to play a role in assuring that the general welfare of its constituency is maintained... You seem to only see quantifiable value, and that is sad. I agree that government spending is not always done prudently, but I see the role of government in ensuring the public good. As far as private sector's role is concerned, there was a time that I would have partially agreed with you; however, that was prior to default swaps and the new catch phrase (new to me anyway) "moral hazzard"... My faith in the private sector looking to invest in the general welfare of we the people is not at a high level these days. At the end of the day, I see you simply not wanting to pay for something (the arts) that is not high on your list of priorities.
Sam November 29, 2011 at 02:48 PM
The fact remains that the cowardice of the Huntington Town Board is ridiculous. 3 voted against the budget who no proposal on how to make cuts elsewhere or better balance funding. Petrone knew this and let the budget pass by default because the 3 council people could now run and cry to their constituents (except glenda of course) that there's nothing they can do about it. How about this: There are well over a dozen elected and patronage positions in the town of Huntington that make nearly $120,000 or more. A 10% reduction in these top salaries will more than be able to pay for the lost arts funding. And a reduction of salaries will also lessen the pension burden - don't thank me, it's just common sense.
bug November 29, 2011 at 05:52 PM
It definitely makes sense but they want US to support the arts, not them. The clock is ticking and we see over and over how we pay more and receive less. Those that are interested in these programs should make an attempt to raise the necesary funds. Private funds that is. If by chance its not there, I dont think the country will collapse.
Dylan Skolnick November 30, 2011 at 02:24 AM
We want to support the arts. It is a good place for our tax dollars to be spent. Government is an important part of these organization's budgets, but it doesn't cover their expenses. All of these organization raise money privately as well. These cuts will not cause our county to collapse, but that's a pretty low threshold for making a decision like this. By that standard, you could also cut all the sports programs on Long Island. In fact, there are plenty of budget cuts that could be made without the county collapsing, but when you add them up, you will see a drastic reduction in our quality of life.
Clifford Sondock November 30, 2011 at 05:24 AM
Dan, the General Welfare in the Constitution as intended by the drafters did not mean welfare as an entitlement that it means today. General Welfare meant that Government could only provide a service for everyone like mail service or roads or courts for adjudication of disputes or a penal system...someting that would serve the General Public as opposed to how we use the term today as an entitlement for a subset of the General Public like the elderly or the poor or the "middle-class" or the Wealthy. The only mention of the Arts in the Constitution had to do with protecting the property rights of writers and artists for their works. By the way, moral hazard is created by Government, not the private sector. Moral hazard is the hazard that results from the absense of a free market, a Government controlled market where failure is NOT treated with loss but bailouts and artificaially low interest rates and enables even greater failures like the sub-prime mortgage failure. Finally, you are correct in that I have no desire to pay for the arts that is lower on my priority list than roads that don't flood and street lights that work. Otherwise, I prefer to keep my money to purchase art for the walls in my home or to donate to the museum of my choice.
Clifford Sondock November 30, 2011 at 05:29 AM
Dylan, your premise is that IF Government doesn't pay for something then something doesn't happen. This is false. Often, something doesn't happen that is supposed to because people expect Goivernment will take care of it. The Arts will be provided if the economy is healthy and there is the need. Too often, needs are not provided because Government regulates the charitable institution out of existence, like in the case of food shelters that do not pass health dept regulations and building codes.
Dan Ciccone November 30, 2011 at 05:32 AM
In a time where solutions are needed, but not necessarily readily available, it is important to stay true to certain principles and not let the circumstances of the moment guide your decisions. For me, I believe in the words of former President Lyndon B. Johnson and believe they are something we should all consider, if not embrace. “The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce, but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.”
Kim November 30, 2011 at 12:54 PM
For everyone wanting to support the arts please feel free to mail a donation. If the Huntington High School Band can raise $65,000.00 ON THEIR OWN, you can too. Take the lead instead of crying for handouts. If our SCHOOLS have to do it then arts should to, honestly, that goes for many people, but since your the focus? buck-up.
Clifford Sondock November 30, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Bravo! I think we're done...
Jerry Hannon December 01, 2011 at 03:02 AM
So nice of Mr. Sondock to tell us we're done. Do make donations, to the extent you are able. Many of you are not suffering in this economy, but far too may people are barely making it and cannot afford to do so. For those who have lost jobs, or had hours cut back, the cruel philosophy of Ayn Rand and her libertarian high priests is never kind to them. But don't imagine that private donations is the only path; government has an important role in supplementally funding the arts, but now may be the time for cuts, until things turn around.
Dan Ciccone December 01, 2011 at 05:16 AM
Clifford... You think that when I am talking about the General Welfare of Americans and the public good, that I am talking about "the Welfare System" as in financial assistance??? You and I are not connecting the dots. And I cannot continue this obtuse dialogue.
Dylan Skolnick December 01, 2011 at 07:17 AM
The arts will continue no matter what, but government spending on the arts makes our society richer, stronger and healthier. I'm not sure what food shelters have been closed because they do not pass health dept regulations and building codes, but if that is true, they should be closed. Health department regulations are essential to the protection of all. There is no reason why we should accept that the homeless should receive poisoned food. Regulation is one of the most important functions of government. We need more regulation, not less.
Kim December 01, 2011 at 01:53 PM
Please don't tell me I don't understand. I do understand. I don't agree! Do not belittle my views by trying to make me out to be an idiot. I am far from it. I can actually see the forest through the trees, whats left of them.


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