Patrick McNamara/The Explorer,

Representatives and supporters of several charities and non-profit organizations came to an Oro Valley Town Council meeting last Thursday, when the council discussed public funding for their causes and services.

Heeding a call from Greater Oro Valley Arts Council leaders for a show of support, backers of the group showed up at the council meeting to lobby for continued town funding for the arts.

“In the past three years I’ve seen a real need in this community for people to have access to art classes,” said Linda Ahearn, a local artist and studio owner.

Her Toscano Studio and Gallery, the sole studio in town, offers art classes and exhibits works.

The town’s newly-implemented funding process marks a decided change from the way money was doled out in the past. Groups seeking town support must now apply annually, coinciding with the budget cycle, instead of at staggered times throughout the year. The new policy also was designed to keep constant the number of organizations funded by the town.

“The intent of the process was to be more egalitarian in nature,” said Oro Valley Town Manager David Andrews.

For a group like the GOVAC, which for the past 10 years has had a special relationship with the town, the change would appear to mark the end of an era.

Until now, GOVAC was funded in accord with a multi-year contract with the town. Contributions were given almost as a matter of course, with only the dollar amount up for debate.

That agreement is set to expire at the end of the month, and town leaders have no plan to renew it.

In place of a master operating agreement penned in 2003, the group will have a financial participation agreement with the possibility of annual renewal. The same holds for other non-profit groups that seek town funding.

Arts council members say the change fundamentally contradicts town policies as spelled out in the voter-adopted general plan of 2005.

The plan states that Oro Valley “shall continue to support the efforts of GOVAC … and to provide residents with access to the arts through a continued Master Operating Agreement.”

Under state law, cities and towns are required to maintain and periodically revise a general plan. These plans mostly govern land use and growth policies.

State law does not require towns to include arts and cultural issues in general plans. Oro Valley has identified a commitment to the arts in its general plan since at least 1996.

Group members also said letting the master operating agreement expire effectively changes the general plan.

“If the general plan is supposed to be a guiding policy, they just can’t go and change the general plan,” said GOVAC President Satish Hiremath.

The plan lays out procedures for changes, with a distinction made between major and minor amendments.

Town officials say the changed role of GOVAC, and in particular the expiration of the master operating agreement, does not meet the threshold of either a major or minor amendment.

“The proposed change, I believe, is more administrative in nature,” Andrews said.

Town Attorney Tobin Rosen also said the change doesn’t require the formalities of an amendment process.

By way of illustration, Rosen said, if the group ceased to exist or another group took precedence over GOVAC, there would be no need to amend the plan.

For GOVAC, even before the new town policy, the past few years have been rocky, with a succession of board and executive director changes.

The group’s financial woes became clear in January, when its executives came before the town council to plead for an emergency infusion of cash. The council gave the group $60,000, making the town’s fiscal 2008 contribution about $170,000.

Town leaders also agreed to extend the master operating agreement until the end of June.

Now, the subcommittee overseeing community funding recommended supporting the group at a lower level than in previous years, $105,000. That total included funding for this and next year’s Fourth of July celebrations, one of the group’s most costly annual productions.

Adding to the group’s financial situation, Councilman K.C. Carter has recommended slashing town funding for the group completely within three years.

That recommendation was made in a memo Carter sent to fellow council members and the town manager.

“It looks to me that that particular organization in the last many months has been mismanaged,” Carter said in an interview.

Carter also requested in the memo that GOVAC be required to provide full accountings on a quarterly basis with the stipulation that failure to do so would result in withholding town funds.

Group leadership seems baffled by the request, insisting that they have done so throughout their relationship with the town.

At the town council meeting, former GOVAC treasurer Alan Dankwerth said the group has kept its books open to the town, or anyone who cared to view them, and updated monthly.

Carter also wants GOVAC to pay for the use of town facilities, clean up crews and police who provide security at town-sponsored events.

That change, more than the others, could hamper the group’s ability to hold events in the town, especially large events like the Fourth of July celebration in Riverfront Park.

“If we had to have staffing in parks and recreation to do what GOVAC does, we would need a much bigger budget,” said Dick Johnson, a supporter of GOVAC.

Johnson, himself a former council member, told lawmakers that without GOVAC and its cast of volunteers working the events, the town would have to foot the bill alone at great expense.

Despite the concerns, the new process remains policy. Town council members likely will vote later this month to finalize the funding recommendations and the rest of the fiscal 2009 budget.

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