Should Elgin fund the ESO? Candidates weigh in
City council hopefuls have different ideas
The nine candidates vying for a 2-year seat on the Elgin City Council have differing views about whether the city should give money to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.
After running deficits of up to $700,000 in 2010-11 and 2011-12, the symphony balanced its budget this year. But it still owes the city about $200,000 in back rent for use of the Hemmens Cultural Center.
So the ESO recently asked the city council for a donation of $150,000 annually for the next three years.
For some of the candidates squaring off in Tuesday's primary election, the city should help the ESO because of the spotlight it puts on the city.
"I'd like the symphony to stay in Elgin and be the Elgin Symphony forever," Larry Wegman said. "I'm prepared to assist them as we're able (to do) as a taxpaying society."
Thomas McCarthy agreed, saying, "They draw people in."
Michael DeBrocke called the symphony "the crown jewel of this town. We should do everything we can to keep it," he said, adding that the back rent issue needs to be resolved.
Daniel Schultz also said he doesn't want the ESO to leave Elgin.
"It might not bring monetary benefits to Elgin the whole time, but they bring other benefits," such as customers for local restaurants, Schultz said.
Craig Dresang said he's a strong advocate of all arts, which enhance Elgin residents' quality of life.
"At times the city has been antagonistic to the ESO, and it hasn't been helpful," Dresang said.
Elgin used to give the ESO a yearly allocation of $90,000 in riverboat casino funds until 2011, when a new rule required nonprofits to apply for grant money. That's also when the ESO stopped paying rent to the city.
Several of the council candidates said the city should help the ESO, but only up to a point.
Roy W. Chapman III said the city could make a donation for one or two years. After that, the ESO needs to become fully self-sustaining, or 'they're going to become more and more dependent (on the city) and we're never going to be able to break that dependency," he said.
Jason Dusenberry said it's important to ensure the success of organizations that bring life to downtown Elgin.
"We should figure out an arrangement so it's not a blank check. But, yes, we have to work with them," Dusenberry said.
Toby Shaw said that in the first year, the city should deduct from its monetary donation the amount the ESO owes in back rent, effectively voiding the sum. In following years, the city should give the ESO a discount on rental fees at the Hemmens.
"(ESO) does keep our downtown vibrant when they have shows," he said.
Candidate Chindavanh Keomuongchanh had a different take, saying taxpayers shouldn't foot the bill for the ESO -- period.
"If I had my own business since 1950 and I still struggled, I would find something else to do," he said.
The two winners of Tuesday's primary will face each other in the April 9 election, in which 13 other candidates are running for four, 4-year seats.