To the editor
Distraught by cuts to Backus Community Center (BCC) by the city of International Falls, Backus leaders pleaded with the council to reconsider its 2021 contributions to them last Thursday. The city is proposing a $25,000 appropriation this year, down from $55,000 last year. The money from the city goes to the Backus operating costs.
“The International Falls City Comprehensive Plan — A Place of Possibilities” adopted on Jan. 21, 2020, by the city council and its constituents all strongly agree that, “Backus holds a significant value to our public and International Falls is well positioned to grow its potential as a regional arts destination if the right catalyst is found.” A cut of $30,000 proposed by the city is not the catalyst the Plan recommends. Would the city be able to operate on a 55 percent cut in its operating costs?
According to the plan, BCC is a regional success story contributing to the arts and quality of life here and the best example of the adaptive reuse of a historic building. The community has worked to rehabilitate BCC’s character and assets. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
BCC has an active membership of 400 plus area citizens. Townspeople volunteered there almost 2,000 times last year. The number of times people enter the building last year was 52,016.
The Falls Hunger Coalition’s, Ruby’s Pantry, Second Harvest Heartland, Backus Community Café and Backus Summer Kids Food Service Program operate out of Backus and provide food for the food insecure.
Backus presents the performing arts series including dance, music, drama, and comedy. The center’s gallery hosts art exhibits and is home to a dance studio, art classes, art society, annual summer arts program for children, community orchestra, band and “Borealis Bards”.
Tax assistance, athletic, physical health, community gathering events and recreation programs along with banquets, workshops and candidate forums occur there. Eighty-four employees work at the building today. Backus Building Tenants served 24,298 clients during 2019 (Backus 2019 Annual Report).
The plan acclaims the activities at Backus connect people, build economic activity and improve residents’ access to enrichment and educational opportunities.
The plan identifies BCC as a strength of our city and identifies BCC’s offerings as opportunities to promote the city to potential citizens. The Plan also identifies threats to the city through loss or reduction of funding support from government.
Where is the city council’s sense of social fairness by threatening human opportunities at the city’s major historic community center? Significant funds are used to promote other high priorities. Certainly, the city mayor and councilors can sustain the human activities of thousands of their constituents at Backus. The council should fully live up to its adopted Plan for Backus.
Ward Merrill, executive director of Backus Community Center said at the council meeting, “We’d really like you to reconsider the proposed $25,000 appropriation reduction in funding to us this year, which will hurt.”
Leland H. Grim
International Falls, MN