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An ordinance in Chattanooga's City Code may mean that public art has been shortchanged by almost $1.7 million since 2004, records show.

"We have an ordinance in the books that has been overlooked," said Councilman Andraé McGary, chairman of the Education, Arts and Culture Committee of the City Council.

According to the city's public arts ordinance -- a copy of which was handed out in Tuesday's committee meeting -- 1 percent of the capital improvements budget or $100,000 is to be allocated to the public arts program. The ordinance specifically states "whichever is greater."

The city gave $1.2 million to the program when it started in 2004 and has appropriated $100,000 every year since then. But city records show that the 1 percent allocation would have been greater in each year.

In the first year, the program would have received $319,000 in city funding, climbing to $535,000 by the 2008-09 fiscal year, records show.

Most of the public arts money, however, comes from private donations, officials said. In 2008, donors gave $1.4 million, records show.

The City Council found out about the discrepancy during a special presentation Tuesday to the Education, Arts and Culture Committee about the arts program.

But some city officials said they think the ordinance was changed sometime in 2005 or 2006. The City Attorney's Office has not been able to find the changes yet but is expected to bring the amended ordinance to next week's City Council workshop.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said research done Wednesday found that the City Council had been omitting the "whichever is greater" clause over the last three to four years when passing the budget.

"Whether inadvertently or not," he said.

Council Chairman Jack Benson said Wednesday he did not remember voting for the ordinance as written.

"I don't know for certain," he said. "We didn't approve it that way. Regardless of what it said, we can reconsider it."

Mr. Benson said seeing the ordinance as written was a complete surprise to him. He said he didn't think it would be fair to "tie" the city into allocating more money for public art while the economy was still down and talks of annexation were ongoing.

"I think it could be establishing a bad precedent," he said.

Don Andrews, former president of Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga, said Wednesday a deal was struck in 2006 with the city that either 1 percent of the capital budget or $100,000 be given, whichever was greater. He said the percentage the city was supposed to give became "shaky."

Mr. McGary said Wednesday he wanted to bring up the issue again at next week's council workshop and either get a consensus from the council on enforcing the ordinance as written or changing it.

He would much rather enforce the ordinance and give more money to the public art program, Mr. McGary said.

"Art is an economic draw, and it's an economic development piece," Mr. McGary said.

Kristy Huntley, program officer for the Benwood Foundation, said Wednesday that her organization, along with Lyndhurst Foundation, help pay for most of the operating budget for the program. The added money would be a great benefit for keeping the program ongoing.

"It would make the program more sustainable," she said.

Jack Murrah, senior associate for the Lyndhurst Foundation, said the "lion's share" of funding has come from private investors. If the city decided to honor the 1 percent commitment, it could mean more value to the program, he said.

PDF: Public art program review

PUBLIC ART ORDINANCE

The ordinance presented to the City Council as part of a program review reads as follows:

"One percent of the eligible annual capital improvements budget funded from the General Fund or one hundred thousand dollars whichever is greater be appropriated to the City's Public Art Initiative."

Source: Chattanooga City Council

CAPITAL BUDGET FUNDING

If the City Council had funded 1 percent of the capital budget toward public art since 2004, the amount of money the program would have received would have been:

* 2004-2005: $319,000

* 2005-2006: $380,000

* 2006-2007: $442,000

* 2007-2008: $511,000

* 2008-2009: $535,000

Source: Public Art Chattanooga program review

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