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Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Proposed Riverton budget calls for funding cuts for community events

RIVERTON — Faced with a shrinking budget in a flailing economy, Riverton Mayor Bill Applegarth is proposing cutting all funding to community events and reducing city dollars by 20 percent to arts programs and the Miss Riverton pageant.

Applegarth wants such programs to be self-funded, running off donations and grants.

"Our sales tax is down," the mayor said. "We're concerned about next year. Our revenues will not go up; they'll stay flat. We just don't know what the future holds. That's why I'm very nervous."

The mayor and City Council have pledged to not increase residents' property taxes this year, but with an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 shortfall, cuts have to be made.

And there are added expenses to the 2010-11 fiscal year budget, which include $100,000 for maintenance of three new parks, as well as equipment and building upkeep. Currently, funding for replacement of equipment and building maintenance is being taken out of a savings account.

Axing funding on community events, though, is not as dramatic as it sounds, Applegarth said. Some of the events, which include Fourth of July Town Days, Santa Coming to Town and the Easter Egg Hunt, already run without cash from City Hall. Riverton will continue paying for Town Days fireworks.

Riverton Art Commission programs facing 20 percent funding cuts include the orchestra, jazz band, arts council and arts festival. The Miss Riverton pageant would also be affected.

But the mayor's proposal comes with a five-year plan to make the programs self-sustaining through individual and business donations; grant money; and Zoo, Arts and Parks tax dollars.

"In meeting and talking with them, they're going to be OK this next year," Applegarth said of the city volunteer groups.

Prudent financial planning has kept planners for the popular Riverton Arts Festival running in the black.

"With the economy, we knew it would go down," said director Camie Lloyd.

The festival received $4,000 from the city last year, along with in-kind help from the city, such as free park space and maintenance.

Lloyd said festival organizers already have cut back to keep the 12-year tradition running. This year's event, for example, will only have one performing stage instead of two.

"I suspect our numbers will be down, but we'll make cuts where we need to so we can still make a quality festival," she said. "If people aren't spending, you have to be careful what you're spending."

Lloyd said she's confident the festival can run without city funding. The Riverton Arts Festival is funded by donations from the George Eccles Foundation, Rocky Mountain Power and Zoo, Arts and Parks tax dollars.

Like most Utah cities, the recession has hit the suburban pocketbook. Riverton's budget has dropped by about $1 million a year since 2007.

The mayor plans to present his budget to the City Council on May 4.