DIXON – Commissioner Dennis Considine surprised his colleagues when he casted a “no” vote this week for routine city expenditures, questioning the amount of money spent on the municipal band.
From budget talks, the city tentatively agreed to give the band $40,000 with the final vote coming in July to make the appropriations ordinance official.
Considine became concerned when he saw a $1,115 payment to band manager Cathy James for 3 sessions, among a 3-page list full of musicians making less than $100.
After city commissioners were criticized by the public for missing former Comptroller Rita Crundwell’s theft of nearly $54 million, and for having four commissioners, including Considine, signing off on requisitions for former City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen’s use of city-issued credit cards for personal use, the expense sounded his alarm.
“I know we agreed during appropriations to give them $40,000, but we’re not randomly agreeing to hand them over $40,000 with no real accounting,” Considine said. “Who’s looking over the band?”
According to city codes, director Mark Bressler is given the power to spend the budgeted amount as he sees fit to manage the band, and the City Council oversees the expenditure by approving the city’s outgoing bills.
Bressler’s post is appointed by the mayor with the council’s approval.
Finance Director Paula Meyer said she cuts the checks to the municipal band and can halt payment on anything suspicious.
Bressler said the $1,115 paid to James actually is below average when compared to other municipal bands of its size.
James is paid $3,000 a year as band manager.
In Sterling, three managers make $115 per month for a total of about $4,140, according to a budget provided by Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard.
Bressler is paid $7,300, compared to $10,660 the director in Sterling receives.
In other comparisons, the River City Municipal Band in Clinton, Iowa, which is not city funded, pays its director $1,050 per year, according to Mike Adair, River City band president.
In Mount Morris, a city of 3,013, the band director makes about $1,200 per year for the city-funded band, according to its city clerk’s office.
Bressler said the director is required to budget, submit bills, select more than 100 pieces of music, organize shows, write program notes and issue news releases, among other items.
The manager is responsible for bookkeeping and “all things personnel,” Bressler said. Also, the manager is in charge of finding substitute players.
During budget talks, Considine said he did not favor funding the city band. Also, he said he opposed paying a director and manager who do not live in Dixon, when individuals from Dixon could possibly be found for those positions.
“I think instead of it being business as usual, let’s give the band $40,000 per year, we should look into it more,” Considine said. “Maybe Dixon can’t afford a band.”
The city levies 1 cent per $1,000 of assessed property value for the band, collecting about $72,000 per year. In the band’s budget proposal presented to the City Council, it said the remaining money from the tax line should go to another department where it’s needed.
Bressler said more than 50 percent of the band’s members are from Dixon, saying students from Dixon High School are given priority during auditions.
The band has 10 concerts scheduled for this summer and a show during the city’s Christmas Walk event.
The band also marches in the city’s parades, Bressler said.
Its summer concerts, so far, have drawn about 150 to 200 people.
Mayor Jim Burke said the band plays a critical role in promoting the performing arts in the city.
“It’s part of the culture in Dixon of maintaining that high-cultured artistic community,” Burke said. “It adds a quality of life, and like the Second Saturday Art Happenings downtown it brings with it an economic development component of people visiting and spending money in the city.”
Also, Burke said he is concerned commissioners want to micromanage committees or entities of the city entrusted with directors or managers.
“I don’t think we want to get into micromanaging all these groups, like we already have with the Riverfront manager,” Burke said, making reference to the council’s rejection of a $600 pay raise for the Riverfront Commission’s manager.
“Why have these positions if the City Council is going to do all the work? They presented a budget, and if there were any questions, the proper thing to do would be to call the band director in to sit down and answer any questions.”
Bressler said Considine has not contacted him with any questions.
Still, the commissioner has his reservations.
“The city doesn’t have any money for a rainy day, but it has money to spend on something that only a small number of our citizens enjoy.”