Updated April 16, 5:55 p.m.: The Manassas City Council backed more dollars for an area ballet company that has close ties to the mayor and other members of the council during a budget “mark-up” session Wednesday night.
The budget can still be changed before it is formally adopted in May. However, the “mark-up” session provided an opportunity for the council to take up individual items and vote on them via a “straw poll.” Because the majority of councilors have indicated their preferences, many of those items are likely to survive the remainder of the budget process.
The public has a chance to weigh in on council’s decisions April 23 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
The allocation of nonprofit dollars has been watched in particular because the council has debated whether it should change the way it gives money to nonprofits amid questions about funding to the Manassas Ballet.
Mayor Harry “Hal” Parrish II (R) is on the ballet’s board of directors. The ballet’s executive director is council member Mark Wolfe (R) and his wife, Amy, is the group’s paid artistic director. The president of the ballet board is council member Sheryl L. Bass.
Some have questioned whether the city should have paid $2,000 for city councilors and their spouses to attend the ballet’s Black and White ball, an annual fundraiser.
The Washington Post has reported that, according to a budget document, since fiscal 2006, the ballet has received $138,000, or 11 percent, of Manassas’s $1.2 million allocation for all nonprofit organizations.
The subject of the ballet did not come up directly Wednesday. But Parrish said that while he was reluctant to overrule a two-member committee that he had appointed — council members Jonathan L. Way (R) and J. Steven Randolph (I) — he said a fairer method would be to fund nonprofits based on their allocations last year.
Allocations to Independence Empowerment Center, a nonprofit that helps the disabled population, and Upstart Crow, a nonprofit production company, would receive no funds because they did not submit the proper application on time, Parrish said.
That means that the ballet would receive $18,000 instead of the $17,000 the city’s committee had recommended. Other nonprofit groups would also receive more funds than the committee’s recommendation, including Center for the Arts and Action in Community Through Service’s domestic violence services.
Parrish said in an interview that the committee he appointed had struggled with the issue and wanted to come up with a fair approach that wouldn’t take a lot of the council’s time during a busy night with a lot of important decisions.
“I was looking for something that could be supported and be simplistic and not take up a whole lot of time with the council,” he said. Because his approach, supported by a majority of council members, zeroed out dollars for Independence Empowerment and Upstart Crow, the council also reduced the amount of money going to nonprofits, he said.
His position on the ballet’s board and personal support of Manassas Ballet “didn’t enter into my consideration at all.”
He said the appointed committee is “done” and the city will look at its options for how to fund nonprofits in the future.
Wolfe has abstained from votes involving the ballet and did so Wednesday. He said he has not used his position on council to get more dollars for the ballet.
The rest of the council, with the exception of Marc T. Aveni (R), voted for Parrish’s revised nonprofit funding plan.
Aveni said that amid “legitimate questions from the public” about funding to the ballet and other nonprofits, the council chose to change course in a sparsely attended budget “mark-up” session.
“With all this attention and questions from the public we give them more money?” Aveni said of the ballet. “I’m flummoxed by the process.”
Aveni is chair of the city’s finance committee and has asked the nonprofit funding issue to come back before the committee.
He also objected to Wolfe, with backing from other members of council, putting back in a controversial bike trail called Winters Branch Trail, located off Wellington Road. The price tag is $480,000.
Wolfe said that the city should reevaluate the trail even though City Council, including Wolfe, had previously voted to take it out of the budget. Wolfe said the trail deserves further study.
“You’re talking about a penny on the tax rate for a bike trail that nobody wants,” said Aveni, who, among others, opposed the trail.
Aveni was also the lone dissenter on the city’s initial pass at the overall budget as well. Councilors backed a $1.19 real-estate tax rate, which would result in a $96.4 million general fund budget. The rate also means an average tax bill of $2,934, a $12 average residential increase for city residents.
“Call it what you will, it is a tax increase,” Aveni said. “We did not need to do that.”
This post has been updated since it was first published.