Chesterton Tribune

Budget time: Opera House gets year to prove worth

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After asking for and receiving funding from the county council for the first time, Brian Schafer has a year to prove The Memorial Opera House is worth it.

The opera house’s business director and executive producer believes the normally self-sustaining theater will do just that.

Schafer said that revenues at the opera house have risen 58 percent since 2007, but the ability to add anything to the entertainment slate has maxed out with the current staffing. With just himself and one other full-time staffer, there simply wasn’t enough management time available to expand any further.

At Monday’s county council budget hearing he was granted an additional $100,000 to add three positions, a marketing and group sales manager, a house manager and a bookkeeper that will be split with the expo center.

But just for one year.

Schafer believes with the opportunity to bring in more people and add mid-week events, the opera house will once again be self-sustaining after next year.

“I’m absolutely excited,” Schafer said. “We believe there is a need and audience for expanding. I think these tough economic times have actually benefitted the opera house. People can come and enjoy a night of entertainment here for just a fraction of the price they would have to pay to go to the city.”

While council members expressed some reservations about adding such an expense for entertainment, councilman Jeremy Rivas cast the lone dissenting vote, they also noted it’s important to have arts in the community.

“This is an experiment to see what they can accomplish given the right resources,” council president Dan Whitten said. “Then, they will sit down with us and talk about the opera house and whether it will go forward.”

Schafer said one of his objectives for the mid-week events is to show limited-release and independent movies.

“In order to continue the growth that we’ve established, I needed some help,” Schafer said. “And I wasn’t going to be able to go to a bank to get it.”

Highway budget decreases

Stating that the highway department has built more than a $1 million surplus, director Al Hoagland dropped his request for next year’s local roads budget by more than $300,000.

Unfortunately for the county, the highway department runs entirely off state funds so the savings won’t be something Porter County benefits from. Still, Hoagland said the county is in strong standing and built that surplus to be prepared for a disastrous event, such as a storm or a bridge collapse.

The council did discuss bringing the highway department’s medical expenses under the umbrella of the general fund to free up more state money for road construction, but it chose not to move on that until the rising costs of health care are addressed.

County auditor Bob Wichlinski is still conducting research and seeking counsel on how to create a cheaper and more effective health care plan for the county on the request of Whitten.

Only two more miles

Hoagland was also able to shift some of his funds from his stone budget to asphalt because there are only two more miles of unpaved roads left in the county.

Hoagland, who has been in the department for 33 years, said when he started there was more than 190 miles of unpaved roads.


Posted 10/4/2011