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City staffing shortages to delay Live Music Fund deployment until mid-2023

Tuesday, May 10, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Musicians, promoters and other creatives will have to wait another year to enter into a contract of $5,000-$10,000 from the city’s Live Music Fund. The delay is due to a staffing shortage in the city, including 20 positions in the Economic Development Department, with the management of the fund headed for a third-party contractor.

During a presentation at last week’s Music Commission meeting, staff reviewed the latest timeline for the first rollout of the $3 million fund, which was first approved by City Council in 2019. The solicitation process of the program administrator is expected to conclude in December, with selection by next March and a two-month contract application process for artists ending in June.

The Live Music Fund uses money from the city’s portion of Hotel Occupancy Tax receipts, which fell drastically during the Covid-19 pandemic but has rebounded over the past year. While the contracting process outlined by the city’s Purchasing Department is the cause for the most recent extension of the rollout, earlier delays in opening it up to applicants came because the Music Commission wanted to stress equity concerns in evaluating applicants and pushed for smaller contract amounts so more awards could be made to help more projects.

Erica Shamaly, manager of the Music and Entertainment Division, said recent departures have left her staff unable to properly handle the expected 1,200-2,500 applicants, from which up to 500 contracts would be awarded.

“I wish we could make it go faster, tons faster, but this way is the fastest we can get this all done. If we were to do it all in-house … we simply don’t have enough staff. We have lost a lot of staff like a lot of different organizations throughout the country and we’re doing the best that we can.”

Commissioners questioned Shamaly and EDD Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb on the specific steps in the solicitation process and whether there was a way to hasten the contractor selection as was done throughout the onset of the pandemic while the city was spinning up new relief programs. Holt-Rabb said the emergency declaration from the state that was in place for much of 2020 allowed the city to move more quickly, but now the administration of the Live Music Fund is the first program being rolled out while the Music and Entertainment, Cultural Arts and Historic Preservation divisions – also funded in part by the hotel tax – are restructuring some of their processes.

Chair Anne-Charlotte Patterson asked if there were any early application steps or other procedures that could be done in 2022 while the solicitation process is being carried out, so contracts could be awarded sooner.

“I get the staffing shortage and the purchasing timelines and that those are hard, but I would say that musicians have been waiting a long time,” she said. “We’ve been discussing this since 2019, so four years is a long time.”

Commissioners also asked staff members if there are other ways for the outside contractor’s fee to be paid directly by the city rather than using money from the funding pool and reducing the amount available for awards.

Holt-Rabb said using award funds to pay for the contractor fee is a standard step when outsourcing program management.

“We were instructed to submit a baseline budget and it is appropriate for the fee to come from the Live Music Fund,” she said. “Even if we had to bring on extra staff, we didn’t have that in our operation budget so we had to take it from somewhere, and it is an appropriate expense because at this time we don’t have any additional funds identified.”

Photo by Ron Baker, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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