Council ends funds for ‘Belle’

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Austin City Council will not fund the Spamtown Belle’s operation this summer.

By a unanimous 6-0 vote Monday night, the Austin City Council voted not to appropriate any funding for the boat.

Brian McAlister, 1st Ward, made the motion. Dick Pacholl, 2nd Ward, seconded it.

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All six council members present for Monday night’s regular meeting voted “aye” (John Martin, 3rd Ward, was absent).

Faced with serious financial problems due to cutbacks in Local Government Aid, the Austin City Council has made tough and unpopular decisions already this year. For instance, no funding for the popular petunia baskets that decorate the city’s shopping areas.

Not funding the Spamtown Belle was a recommendation that came from a recent work session of the council members after examining its worth as an attraction to the city.

Janet Anderson, at-large council member, said there were conflicting numbers of the passengers carried by the boat last summer. Whatever revenues generated by the boat were not enough to pay for its operation, city officials agreed.

The Belle was originally donated to the city by Bill Regner. The diesel-engine powered boat originally sailed on East Side Lake before being moved to the Cedar River in Horace Austin Park near the downtown area.

The Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department is in charge of its maintenance and upkeep, but the department is among those suffering the loss of revenues due to the LGA crisis.

Volunteer captains sailed the boat offering passengers rides around Bird Island on the Cedar River for a nominal fee.

One of those captains, Dr. Richard Nordin, told the council members Monday night he is pursuing corporate sponsors to pay for the boat’s operation this summer.

“I think it’s going to happen,” Nordin said, stopping short of naming the sponsors.

The council members said while their decision to deny funding the boat’s operation stands, the motion could be rescinded if Nordin returned with a pledge from sponsors to fund the boat.

“We can make this happen,” Nordin said.