Chesterton Tribune



Council votes 6-1 to keep Opera House running

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It could have been lights out permanently for Porter County’s historic Memorial Opera House, but the County Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to keep the venue in the black by bolstering its cash flow with $50,000 of unallocated county income tax funds.

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, was the one dissenting vote, arguing that the County has other obligations such as fixing the drainage problems in Portage Twp.

“We’re talking about priorities,” he said.

Opera House administrators found themselves in a tricky situation starting this year with its operating expenses in the hole while its directors were attempting to embark on a new marketing effort aimed at self-sufficient revenues.

Interim Director Trinidad Snider and County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said the $50,000 is vital to “keep the cash flow where it needs to be” for this year and into 2016.

“Is this something you can make up?” asked Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st.

“That’s the plan. The plan is we don’t want to be back here next January,” said Blaney.

Snider, who Blaney said is skilled in both business and theater, told the Council that the Opera House will be more visible in the community, promoting events and shows with the help of its 15 member foundation board. They will utilize volunteers instead of paid employees to operate as a business, she said.

There are four well-known musicals on the schedule this year followed by “A Christmas Carol” in December, which Snider anticipates will see healthy ticket sales.

Porter County Auditor Vicki Urbanik said the State Board of Accounts has urged that the Opera House not continue operating in the red with a depleted cash flow, adding that it also goes against the County’s policies.

Rivas asked Urbanik how much the County had in unallocated CEDIT. Urbanik said she anticipates those funds to be at $2 million to $2.5 million this year.

Council members such as Jim Biggs, R-1st, asked what will happen if the $50,000 were not granted. Council attorney Scott McClure said “we’ll have to close the opera house.”

The money, among other things, will allow the facility to build the sets for its next production of Les Miserables, which starts its four week run in February, Snider said.

Biggs said he understands the importance of closing the gap, but told Snider she needs to “understand the gravity of the situation” in that “the spigot is turned off after tonight.”

In September, the County povided $20,000 in CEDIT towards other funding shortfalls.

The Opera House budget is not included in the County’s levy-driven General Fund. It operates on self-generated revenue while the Commissioners have frequently put CEDIT dollars toward building repairs.

Insurance matters

In other business, the Council heard a presentation from representatives of the Indianapolis-based Apex Benefits Group, the same firm that approached the Council last fall claiming it could save the County nearly $3 million in insurance costs with a Cost-Plus method.

County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he would favor the proposal with the savings projected. The County’s insurance policies, however, are decided ultimately by the County Commissioners, who will discuss the Cost-Plus options at their Feb. 18 meeting.

Matt McCuen of Group & Pension Administrators said adopting the Cost-Plus approach would mean the County would need to change its current insurance administrator.

Biggs, who has been spearheading insurance discussions on the Council’s behalf said “time is of the essence” if the County wishes to come close to making its targeted goal of keeping costs under $9 million for 2015.

Also on Tuesday, the Council appointed Rivas to keep communication open between the County and the City of Portage about possible ways the County could lend money to the municipality.

Representatives from Portage said they are in need of funds to renovate their fire station and make it compliant with ADA requirements.



Posted 1/28/2015




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