A City Council-approved cut to the budget of Salute to America turned out to not be a cut at all.
In March, the Jefferson City Council approved a $5,000 cut to Salute to America funding, which was 50 percent of city funding for the popular event. The cut was approved as part of a series of budget cuts, including cuts to police and fire overtime, to help make up a $1.68 million shortfall in the current fiscal year.
But though the $5,000 cut was approved, the event still is receiving the full $10,000, with half of it coming from a line item for special events in the non-departmental budget.
"I'm glad to see that we were able to find a way to keep it at the current level of $10,000 as opposed to the $5,000 that was talked about at one time," said Mayor Eric Struemph, who also serves as Salute to America Foundation chairman.
Some council members said they were aware the event was receiving the full $10,000, but at least two council members who approved the cut had no knowledge another $5,000 was found for Salute to America.
First Ward Councilman Rick Prather said the council had tried to find a way to come up with the funds to keep the full funding level for the event. Prather said council members discussed the best way to find the needed money, but none of those discussions were in open session.
Second Ward Councilman J. Rick Mihalevich said many council members received calls from residents concerned about the funding level for Salute to America. In turn, he said the council sought solutions to the event's funding.
"I kind of thought we had worked something out," Mihalevich said.
Fifth Ward Councilman Larry Henry said the special events money that was used to keep the Salute to America funding at $10,000 was found after the council had approved the initial cut. He said the council was concerned about the impact of a 50 percent cut to the budget of such a popular, family-oriented community event.
"We were trying to find some more money to keep that going," Henry said. "That money was found later on ... Was it gone about the right way? It probably could have been done a bit better."
Second Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte, who also serves as Finance Committee chairman, said he did not know the event was receiving the full $10,000 and he would need to look into the issue.
"News to me," Schulte said. "I was not aware of that."
Fifth Ward Councilman Ralph Bray said he also was unaware of the added $5,000 being given to the event after the council approved the cut.
"That must have been done outside of the council then," Bray said. "I was unaware of it."
City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said he had consulted with some council members about finding the additional funds, but did not speak to every member of the council about it.
When asked why the city presented a $5,000 cut to Salute to America and not a $5,000 cut to the special events line item, Nickolaus said, "it just never really occurred to us to do that."
Nickolaus said the reason there was no public announcement or discussion in open session about the funding change was it was felt after weeks of budget discussions on what to cut and where to cut, the city did not want to go back and make another change.
"It was just better just to do it," Nickolaus said.
Mihalevich said he believed a lot of officials wanted to change the level of funding during the discussions, but "didn't want to disrupt the process."
During the budget discussions in late February and March, Nickolaus repeatedly said the city needed to look at what services are "most essential." When asked if Salute to America was most essential, Nickolaus said there's a difference of opinion on the matter.
"If I was cutting things, I would say that it is less essential than some other things," Nickolaus said. "Ultimately, that's the council's call and the strong feeling that I was getting from the council was that they would rank it much higher in priority."
He said the event does generate 40,000 visitors to the area and generates needed sales tax revenue, in addition to being an important cultural event for the city.
"It ultimately comes down to that's a political choice," Nickolaus said. "There's never enough money to go around ... (the council) decides what's most important."