Silver Spring may lose swing in its step
Budget cuts could eliminate popular concert series
Montgomery County's financial woes may take the swing out of downtown Silver Spring this summer.
Silver Spring officials have proposed discontinuing the popular Silver Spring Swings Summer Concert Series due to budget cuts recommended for county agencies. The Silver Spring Urban District was asked to cut 8 percent of its budget for fiscal 2011, said Susan Hoffmann, director of marketing and special events for the Silver Spring Regional Center. Silver Spring's marketing budget is $200,000 plus Hoffmann's salary, she said. The cut equates to about $24,000, roughly the cost of the concert series, which completed its 16th season in 2009. Hoffmann said she is not allowed to cut her own salary.
"Although it broke my heart, [the concert series] was the one that was not the easiest but the one that came to the right number," Hoffmann said in a phone interview last week. Hoffmann also considered cutting more costly events like the annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival or the county's Thanksgiving parade that runs through Silver Spring.
"There was no more nibbling around the edges, it was time to take a big bite," she said.
But Hoffmann is quick to point out that discontinuing the concert series "isn't a done deal." The urban district simply submitted a budget to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) that satisfies the recommended 8 percent cut. Leggett still has to approve that cut, which will be evaluated against "myriad cuts from all the other agencies," Hoffmann said. A final decision on the fiscal 2011 budget will come in March.
Urban districts, the agencies that manage and maintain the county's unincorporated central business districts, are funded through various sources.
In Silver Spring those sources include property taxes from residents, commercial property owners and optional method developers within the urban district and revenue from the Silver Spring Parking Lot District, which includes parking fees and fines within the urban district. Revenue from parking and optional method developers is expected to match the county's projections from last May, said Beryl Feinberg, a budget manager with the county's Office of Management and Budget. But she said the property-tax revenues are more volatile.
Plus, the urban district doesn't receive all revenue from those sources and will be evaluated against all other possible destinations such as rehabbing the Spring-Colesville parking garage, staffing the future Silver Spring Civic Building or improving mass-transit options when the revenue is allocated.
The 8 percent budget cut is mostly a ballpark recommendation, Feinberg said, with the real impact on the urban district's budget to become clearer in February, when the revenue available for the urban district are finalized.
"Everything is on the table," Feinberg said.
For years the concert series had featured 10 performances from jazz and swing bands in the Washington, D.C., area, starting in June and running weekly through August. In 2008, however, Hoffmann scaled the series back to eight performances as budgets began to tighten.
Each concert costs about $3,000, to pay for the performers, sound and lighting system and marketing for the concerts. The concerts attracted between 750 and 1,000 people on average, Hoffmann said.
"We should fight this," Jennifer Nettles of Peterson Cos., the property manager for Downtown Silver Spring, where the concerts are held, said last month at a Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Committee meeting. "The concerts have proven to bring people, dollars and families to the area.
"It's only helping our economic development."
With the weekly concerts Downtown Silver Spring held on Fridays and Saturdays last summer, live music was available three consecutive nights per week at the Silver Plaza stage on Ellsworth. The Wheaton Urban District also held a weekly outdoor concert series last summer but has not yet determined its projected budget, said Sidney Cooper, the urban district's marketing director, in an e-mail.
For every dollar spent on the arts in Silver Spring, Hoffmann estimates consumers pump about $9 back into the local economy. Events like the concert series, Thanksgiving Parade and Jazz Festival are partially funded through corporate sponsorships, Hoffmann said, but those are dwindling as well.
"This is where the rubber meets the road," said Reemberto Rodriguez, the director of the Silver Spring Regional Center, at last month's advisory committee meeting. "The budget situation is as real as it gets."