Bloomfield Council discusses creating arts utility

The Bloomfield Township Council discusses establishing an arts utility to fund public art at its Nov. 9 meeting.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield Township Council discussed establishing a Community Arts Utility at its Nov. 9 meeting, planning eventually to set up a committee and dedicated funding for the arts in town that would be separate from the overall annual budget. Township Administrator Matthew Watkins said the council’s dedication to growing the arts community in Bloomfield has grown exponentially over the last five years.

“Especially with Oakeside and the Collins House next year, the idea is to start to make these self-sufficient and also provide a heightened sense of focus to arts in the community,” Watkins said at the meeting. “We’ve been working toward a greater ability to provide community arts.”

The ordinance will be introduced to the council early in 2021; Watkins said the council can decide what will be included and how the committee will manage it.

“We’re going to adopt the ordinance, while revenue is coming from Oakeside, and then start to put in the other components that I know this council has been talking about,” Watkins said. “Things like murals and public art.”

Bloomfield is looking to Jersey City as a role model in setting up the arts utility. According to Watkins, Jersey City recently set up a funding source with a fee structure for something similar.

“This provides a clean, transparent mechanism in order to fund and stimulate the arts,” he said. “We’re developing all these things that we can keep separate, but we can do it in a way where the mayor and council are still controlling it. If we do it as a utility it will be isolated and have a noncyclical budget that will stay out of the general fund.”

Councilman Ted Gamble asked about the funding for the utility, and how it would be kept separate from the town’s general operating budget from year to year.

“The idea of setting it up as its own utility is so that the funds that go through that institution can be designated separately from other things in the township, so it can be dedicated more towards the arts and historic preservation and such things,” Gamble said at the meeting.

Watkins said Gamble was correct.

“Art is always very important to the community, and should we be able to develop a funding source, we want to make sure it has its own separation,” he said. “Sometimes it goes into the big general pot and seems to be lost forever. This gives greater flexibility to the mayor and council to grow that component of the community. You have an identifiable source of income and identifiable source of expenditures. What you put in it is up to the seven of you.”

Councilman Rich Rockwell, who is the liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission and the Morris Canal Greenway Committee, said he would like to see funding from the utility be contributed to those causes as well.

“It seems like the history and historic sites are an important part of this, and I’d like to see that included,” Rockwell said at the meeting.