Comox Valley theatre having trouble making ends meet

To avoid a budget shortfall of $35,000 to $40,000, the Sid Williams Theatre Society has asked Comox council for an increase of $10,000 in grant funding.

At Wednesday's council meeting, Catherine Miller, president of the SWTS, explained 2012 was a baseline year for the society, as it was the first full year of working within structural and regulatory changes implemented in 2011.

"Despite not meeting all of our budget expectations, the Sid Williams Theatre Society is in improved financial shape from when we met with you a year ago," she said.

Last year, the SWTS requested from council a grant for a $20,000, and received $15,000.

Miller noted due to sacrifices by staff, postponed equipment updates, and no cost-of-living increases as a result from fewer funds received from local government grants, the SWTS is in improved financial shape from a year ago.

She did add the deferrals cannot be repeated in 2013.

"They are what created the problems in 2010, and neither the volunteer board or theatre operations can afford to repeat the past two and a half years."

Miller noted the City of Courtenay assisted with a one-time grant of $60,000, which provided critical operating capital.

"We exited 2011 with a $30,000 capital deficit that would have shut the society down if not for this grant," she explained.

She said operational needs must be funded properly or the society exposes clients, patrons and staff to undue risk and unacceptable liability.

"Without adequate funding, we have no chance of achieving our operational mission or other society mandates and goals," Miller added.

She said other community theatres throughout the province with similar mandates and operations receive an average of 40 per cent of their operational revenue from local government funding.

"Prior to 2011, we were required to operate at between 25 to 28 per cent and the results were not satisfactory. We just kept falling further behind, culminating in our difficulties through 2010 and the required ongoing response initiated in 2011."

Miller added although their budget for 2013 does not address the issue of building capital reserves, the society must build adequate reserves for operational cash flow, capital replacement and to weather unexpected circumstances that could interrupt programming.

She explained the SWTS receives funding from its operations, City of Courtenay contributions and Comox Valley recreational culture funding (discretionary grants from Courtenay, Comox and the Comox Valley Regional District).

The SWTS believes this portion of funding should be aligned more equitably among the three governments, she said.

This year, using population stats from the 2011 census, the society is requesting $25,000 from the Town.

Miller also asked the Town to consider finding a way to fund the organization and other similar ones on a more stable basis through a budget line item, rather than approving discretionary grants every year.

Mayor Paul Ives said the request will be considered as council works through and approves the budget in the coming weeks.

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