BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner hopes the town of Normal will not back out of jointly funding the Twin Cities' annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. awards luncheon, now in its 42nd year.
"At this point Bloomington absolutely has no plans to defund the Martin Luther King Jr. contribution that we make," said Renner. "Getting rid of something that has some cost, but it's a very minor cost, and symbolically very important to many members of our community and our country, I don't think is a good idea. It's not on our chopping block."
The Bloomington and Normal human relations commissions honor the civil rights leader's legacy annually by recognizing two high school students and two adults at the awards luncheon for their efforts to promote tolerance and understanding among people of diverse backgrounds.
Normal's $25,000 annual contribution to the luncheon is part of a wide-ranging list of possible budget cuts being considered to close a $4.25 million deficit in its $102.5 million budget for fiscal 2019.
"Our council has not made any final decisions," said Normal City Manager Mark Peterson. "They've just kind of given staff direction to build this into the new budget, but they haven't approved anything yet."
Quincy Cummings, who received the Normal Human Relations Commission's King award in 2013, said he hopes the event will continue, even if Normal ends its funding.
"The luncheon has always been one of those ways the communities recognize its unsung heroes," said Cummings, president of the Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP and a member of the town's commission.
"If it does go away it would be bittersweet, but we can reimagine ways to honor the legacy of Dr. King that don't cost a lot of money," said Cummings. "There's always an opportunity to do a community march or a community project that is done in the spirit of Dr. King."
"I say we budget $25,000, but (that amount) varies from year to year depending on the cost of the venue, speaker fees that typically range from $10,000 to $15,000, and fluctuation in ticket sales," said Peterson.
Ticket sales, at $20 apiece, do not cover the cost of the event, he added.
"Ultimately when all of the expenses and revenues (from ticket sales) come in, whatever is left over we split 50-50 with Bloomington," said Peterson.
Bloomington budgets about the same as Normal for the event.
"I don't know that we need $25,000, but maybe we could reorganize it to trim expenditures," said Renner.
Bloomington also is looking at ways to trim a deficit — projected to be $2.9 million in a $214 million budget for fiscal 2019 — but Renner said he would oppose eliminating the King event funding.
Town officials have heard from some people who want to see Normal continue its participation, and Normal council members expressed interest in partnering with Illinois State University, which hosts its own King event, said Peterson.
"In doing so, we would contribute some money to that effort — a lesser amount than what we typically pay out for the (Bloomington-Normal) MLK luncheon," he added.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is also commemorated at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington with an annual gospel music festival and other events.
"Because universities do it, that does not mean that the city of Bloomington has no obligation to celebrate one of the most important changes in our country's history," said Renner. "This is something that is so critical to what America means today. It celebrates us becoming a more perfect union by including nonwhite people in that perfect union."