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Skewed priorities?

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Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2009 10:00 pm

At last week's city council meeting, the council approved grants for the arts of $42,500.

Twelve grants were awarded, ranging from $850 for the Lodi Community Band and "Tiger Pause," a publication of Tokay High School student writings, to $8,500 for Red Circle, a Native American cultural group, for a powwow at a yet-to-be-determined location on a yet-to-be-determined date. No, I cannot make this stuff up.

Now before I go any further, I want it well on the record that I don't think we should be spending our money this way; not because I think it is bad to spend on the arts, but rather because Lodi is hurting financially, and $42,500 could be spent in a better way.

When the city's budget was presented to the budget and finance committee, of which I am a member, it was explained to us that this $42,500 is used to promote art and culture events, and to provide scholarships for those who want to participate but cannot because of their finances. When this explanation was given, I asked how much money does the Recreation Commission get to promote recreation activities, and to provide scholarships to kids and adults who cannot afford to pay?

The answer was $0. Nothing. Not a dollar or a dime, yet our city council can give $42,500 to the Arts Commission to toss about as they would like.

If you think this is odd, it isn't. In the last budget, the Arts Commission got $50,000 and the Recreation Commission got $0.

One of the arguments for providing grants for the arts is scholarships. Fine, but what about scholarships for recreation?

Aside from the Boosters of Boys and Girls Sports (the "BOBS"), which serve only a portion of Lodi's programs, there are no scholarships at Parks and Recreation. Last year, about 3,000 kids were in non-BOBS programs. How many more could have played if scholarships were available? What did the kids who couldn't pay to play do with their time?

The other argument for having the grants for the arts is that the cultural events bring people to Lodi and they spend money here. For certain events, I will not argue that, but can't the same be said for a recreation event? If Lodi sponsored a (fill in your sport) tournament over a weekend, it would bring hundreds to town, along with their money.

By all accounts, the recent cycling event was a huge success. The people who coordinated the event and those who participated in it were happy. What was the city of Lodi's contribution to the event aside from some staff time? Nothing. The city of Lodi added nothing to the sponsorship or promotion, and did nothing to actually bring the event to town.

Will the cycling event come back to Lodi? I hope so, but nothing is certain, because the event was sponsored and coordinated by volunteers, and over time, volunteers and sponsors lose enthusiasm.

Wouldn't the event have a better chance of long-term success if one of the sponsors was the Lodi Recreation Commission? I think so.

Other communities have sports commissions that do just that - promote and coordinate sporting events - because those communities know that these events bring people and money to the community.

Somehow, our City Council has forgotten that recreation needs support. Our City Council needs to recognize that recreation gives kids something to do, and that recreation events bring in dollars. Our City Council needs to make an investment in recreation promotion and scholarship that is greater than $0, and a good place to start is with some of the money that goes to the arts.

John Johnson, CFA, is a Lodi-based business appraiser. Contact him at john@johnejohnson.com or 369-1451.

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