A resolution at Woodstock’s July 19 Town Board meeting to transfer money from an unused fund to honor deceased artists sparked debate about the ability to arbitrarily use money for another purpose.
Town Supervisor Bill McKenna read a proposed resolution to dissolve the Woodstock Artists Memorial Trust and move its remaining funds to the Memorial Tree Trust. Approximately $760 remains in the Artists Memorial account and about $4600 is in the tree account.
“What I’m concerned with is the Woodstock Artists Memorial Trust and Agency Reserve. The funds were established for the purpose of recognizing, as you said, Woodstock artists and memorializing them,” Councilman Bennet Ratcliff said. “I just don’t feel it’s appropriate to be moving funds that one group may have placed in one fund to another fund for something else…I think that what we really need to do is fully fund the memorial tree trust and agency, not shuffle funds that are intended for artists memorials to another trust and agency account…I just I don’t think that this is the way to appropriately deal with funds that were intended for Woodstock artists, or to fund the memorial trees.”
Councilwoman Maria-Elena Conte agreed. “Why take away from one group for another,” she said.
McKenna asked the board if it wanted to table the matter for discussion at another time, but noted the money will still be used to honor Woodstockers. “We can still honor Woodstock artists by planting trees,” he said.
“So, is this expanding it to beyond artists?” asked Councilman Reggie Earls.
“It would expand it to anyone the Town Board felt fit to honor,” McKenna answered.
But Ratcliff said the resolution would dissolve the fund.
Earls said he remembered this happening in years past because the town wasn’t using the money set aside in a particular fund. “So, how long has it been since we tapped into this,” he asked.
“It’s been 10 or 12 years since we used it and that long since we got a donation for it,” McKenna answered.
Councilwoman Laura Ricci felt the two funds were serving similar purposes. “By having the tree fund, we’re shifting to say we’re memorializing people through trees at the moment,” Ricci said.
“Basically, the artists one was the same. There’s no criteria,” McKenna said.
“For me, though, somebody gave money, or money was placed there specifically for artists,” Ratcliff said.
He added that he wasn’t sure how many people on the Tree Committee’s list of people to receive trees in their honor were artists.
“The Woodstock artists memorial is not the tree memorial,” Ratcliff said.
Conte noted there are a number of artists about to pass away who are “giants in terms of the performing arts.”
Ratcliff said there are other ways to spend the funds.
“We could definitely plant trees for them, but we could certainly also do other things with the Woodstock Artists Memorial Trust,” Ratcliff said.
Tree Committee Chair Michael Veitch said the group was not consulted about the dissolution of the artists memorial fund.
“Frankly, I’m shocked that thousands of dollars have been sitting around for 12 years when we’ve got artists associations in this town. They could use that money and I can’t think of a better way to honor artists’ memory than to give money to artist groups that really struggle in Woodstock,” Veitch said.
He asked the board to remain open to the concept of using American Rescue Plan funds for planting trees. The town has some unspent ARP money that was given to municipalities by the federal government to recover from revenue lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Veitch said the $760 remaining in the tree fund is “not going to cut it,” but he noted nobody on the Tree Committee would approve of taking money from the artists memorial fund to make up the difference.
“The Tree Committee isn’t asking for much and I don’t see why there’s a problem, here we are,” he said. “We are open to discuss this and we’re happy to come and have private meetings with anybody on the board if they want them.”