City Council discusses funding for Vergennes Opera House

VERGENNES — At a City Council meeting last Tuesday where aldermen discussed a smoking ban in some public places (see story, Page 1) officials and supporters of the Vergennes Opera House also spoke in favor of the organization’s request for $10,000 in the next city budget. Aldermen budgeted $10,000 last year, but have not done so in the past.
Fiscal problems due to the recession, the failure of sponsored events to generate revenue, and a more costly than expected sprinkler project led the nonprofit organization that operates the theater, the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House (FVOH), to cut the hours of its executive director and lay off its event manager. The director, Eileen Corcoran, will step down at the end of the month.
FVOH president Allison Rimmer said the group will re-evaluate what it will require of an employee and hire someone in the fall with a new job description. She also presented aldermen on May 14 with what she called “a very slimmed down budget” for 2013 that, with the $10,000 from the city, she said will stabilize the theater’s finances.
Theater backer Terry Weihs said the theater was in a “sea change period” during which FVOH would be planning “very carefully” for its future.
Former FVOH president Gerianne Smart said she backed the current board’s efforts, which she called “the next round of restoration, if you will … that have to do with strategy and financial (issues).”
Rimmer told aldermen that about 3,400 people had used the opera house in the first four months of 2013 for “64 community-based events/classes,” 11 theater sponsored or co-sponsored programs, and eight private rentals. Two of the theater events were free, she said, and six others had ticket prices of $10 or less.
Rimmer wrote in a letter to aldermen, “The City could view the Opera House much like the City Pool — an asset to the City that requires support from general funds and income from users to keep it open for all to enjoy. We are indeed at a crossroads both as an organization and as a community space but this is an opportunity to design a sustainable operating plan going forward. With everyone’s help, the FVOH will move forward to support and promote the Opera House as the wonderful community center it is.”
In other business, aldermen:
•  Told Public Service Department attorney Tim Duggan that they were happy with a new map from Vermont Gas Systems that now shows that almost the entire city will be served by the company’s proposed Addison County natural gas pipeline, including the 73-home mobile home park on Panton Road.
•  Moved closer to signing an agreement with Encore Redevelopment for a 150-kilowatt solar array around the city’s sewer plant. When the complicated deal is made final, officials say it will save Vergennes about $4,000 a year on its power bill.
•  Adopted a 2013 fee schedule for the city pool that is unchanged from 2012.
•  Heard from City Manager Mel Hawley that residents have until 5:30 p.m. on May 29 to file a grievance about their city property tax assessment.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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