After more than two hours of discussion and difficult questions, the Arlington Heights board on Monday approved the 2014-15 budget for Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, with nearly $250,000 in financial support from the village.
Metropolis, which operates as a nonprofit but is housed in a village-owned building in downtown Arlington Heights, has had financial issues for years and was the subject of an external review last year that said the theater would not survive without drastic changes.
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On Monday night, Executive Director Charlie Beck and Metropolis Board President Joe Lynn argued the financial situation is better than that last year and continuing to get better.
"We have not only learned but demonstrated that we can live within our means," Beck said in an opening statement that recapped the previous troubles and improvements Metropolis has made to date, including increased attendance and decreased production costs.
But trustees still had tough questions before unanimously approving the funding.
Trustee John Scaletta and Beck disagreed about the state of donations to Metropolis, which according to actual numbers are down. Beck argued that the figures can be looked at differently to show an increase.
Scaletta also questioned why the operating subsidy has increased over the years and asked what new returns the village is getting on that investment. Beck attributed some of the increase to cost-of-living increases but couldn't tie the additional money to any specific programs or improvements.
"It helps support us at a level that we need to be supported, to remain viable, to keep the doors open," Beck said.
Beck said the theater projects ending its fiscal year April 30 with a profit, a change from previous years. Trustee Mike Sidor pointed out that Beck had predicted that last year as well, but the theater wound up losing money.
Trustees also complained that they haven't seen financial statements for January and February as all budget documents were as of Dec. 31.
Beck admitted that when he was first hired in 2011 and looked at the finances, he wondered how the theater had stayed open to that point.
"I'm proud that 2½ years later the lights are on and the doors are still open," Beck said. "We need even more funding, but I'm not asking you for it."
The village money approved for 2014-15 includes an operating subsidy of $165,000, as well as $33,000 for equipment replacement, $30,000 for upgrades to the lobby and $20,000 to refurbish seats in the theater, according to budget documents.
"You will get my support this year, but if in future years you cannot continue to control spending and we don't see increased revenues, it will be questionable," Scaletta said.
Several other trustees agreed and expressed a desire for Metropolis to someday be more self-sustaining.
Trustees also discussed a need for better marketing and redefining the relationship between the village and the theater.
"The term 'landlord-tenant' doesn't fit because we are much more than that," said Village President Tom Hayes. "We do have an obligation because of the dollars we contribute to oversee what happens at Metropolis for the betterment of our community. I look at it as more of a partnership with oversight from the village and I look forward to a continued great relationship and great results."