Elgin candidates discuss funding for Elgin Symphony Orchestra
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Among the 13 candidates in the race for four, 4-year seats on the Elgin City Council, some believe Elgin should help out the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, while others believe that's not the city's job.
In late January, the ESO asked the city council for a donation of $150,000 annually for the next three years.
The ESO balanced its budget this year after running deficits of up to $700,000 in 2010-11 and 2011-12. However, it still owes the city about $263,000 in back rent for use of the Hemmens Cultural Center, city officials said.
At the city council's committee of the whole meeting Wednesday, Elgin City Manager Sean Stegall said he's met twice with ESO Interim CEO David Bearden, and negotiations are ongoing regarding repayment of the money.
The candidates shared their views during recent endorsement interviews with the Daily Herald.
Incumbent John Prigge, 54, said the ESO must first pay back rent.
"They are our largest debtor. They are also an asset," he said. "They're doing better now but I need to feel they understand this is not my money, this is the taxpayers' money."
Challenger Andrew Cuming, 26, said the ESO should consider increasing its ticket prices to boost revenues.
"Why am I paying as a taxpayer for other people to go?," he said, also adding, "It's a great resource. I don't want to see it go."
"We have an amazing resource in the ESO that can pull people around the area from our city to have lunches and dinners (at businesses downtown)," Kahn said. "We should support it, but I also think the ESO should have a business plan and be accountable for what they are asking."
The city should get some type of repayment, Gilliam said. He also said the ESO offsets Elgin's image problem.
"People say it's all rich folks that go there, but there are 800 or 900 subscribers that live in Elgin," he said. "If they're successful, we are successful."
Challenger Carol Rauschenberger, 60, agreed the ESO is essential for a positive image of Elgin.
"As people know, sometimes a brand is worth more than the company itself," she said. The city has to try its best to help out the ESO, ideally with riverboat funds, she said. She also likes the idea of having a city council member sit on the ESO's board.
The back rent issue needs to be dealt with first, said incumbent Richard Dunne, 50.
"We need to come to an agreement. They are contractually obligated to pay us," Dunne said. " ... Infighting among their board has created problems that are now being brought to the city of Elgin."
Challenger Tom Armstrong, 57, agreed, saying the back rent issue must be rectified first.
The ESO is "a tremendous asset" that brings business downtown, Armstrong said.
"Moving forward, there needs to be some more creative ways to provide them with support," he said, adding the ESO should also do more to ratchet up fundraising.
Challenger Terry Gavin, 58, said the city shouldn't give the ESO any money "unless we're absolutely convinced they're on the path to fiscal health.
"You could almost say they put themselves in this position, financially, through poor handling of their resources," Gavin said.
ESO makes Elgin shine, said challenger Mitchell Esterino, 57.
"Not too many symphonies in the state can actually match what they do. There is also a ripple effect to downtown business," he said.
However, the ESO needs to be more fiscally responsible and more transparent, he said.
The ESO provides "great quality" and "great service" to Elgin, challenger Cody Holt, 21, said.
The city should resume its financial assistance to ESO, but should not use taxpayers' money, he said. Instead, it should use riverboat funds, which are used to fund other nonprofits.
Challenger Steven Knight, 60, said he's opposed to giving any money to the ESO because its interim CEO, David Bearden, said that's essential to the symphony's survival.
"I don't think the city council is there to make somebody's else job easier. It's to see that they can perform and function in a viable way so they can continue to grow," he said.
The ESO has done a good job in balancing its budget with extensive staff cuts, said challenger Grace Richard, 62. She would be in favor of giving the ESO $450,000 over the next three years, but no more than that.
"I do think that they probably have a great number of supporters both in and out of Elgin, so that they can get back on sound footing."
Challenger Jerri McCue, 58, said she might be in favor of a one-time $150,000 allocation to ESO, followed by an evaluation in a year to see how the organization is doing.
"The downtown business owners are stating publicly that they will be hit financially if the ESO goes," she said.
Two other candidates — Toby Shaw and Craig Dresang — are vying for a two-year seat on the Elgin City Council.
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