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ESO tells Elgin council it wants $150,000 for next three years

ElgSymphony OrchestrApollo Trio musicians include Scott Metlick(right) woodwinds Kathryn Siegel strings Mark Fry (middle) brass. They played for School District

Elgin Symphony Orchestra Apollo Trio musicians include Scott Metlicka (right) on woodwinds, Kathryn Siegel on strings and Mark Fry (middle) on brass. They played for School District 300 students this week.

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Updated: February 26, 2013 6:25AM

ELGIN — The Elgin Symphony Orchestra wants the promise of $150,000 each year for the next three years from the city, the ESO’s volunteer chief executive officer told the council Wednesday night.

David Bearden’s request did not include paying back rent for the ESO’s use of the city-owned Hemmens Cultural Arts Center. However, Bearden did ask that the ESO board and the city council or city staff sit down to discuss that bill.

In November, City Manager Sean Stegall sent the organization a letter indicating that the ESO must present a plan to pay $215,000 for back rent at the Hemmens. The bill dates from May 2011, when the last city allocation to the ESO ran out.

Before making his funding request, Bearden presented the council with an overall look at the ESO’s current financials at Wednesday night’s committee of the whole meeting.

The 2012-13 fiscal year is better than previously forecast, he said, and final financial information from the 2011-12 budget is better than previously believed.

In addition, Bearden said, the last performance of 2012 — a holiday concert — was sold out, and ticket sales are up.

He also told the council that a $600,000 estate donation helped prop up the symphony’s 2012-13 budget, making the symphony solvent for this year. Half of those funds already have arrived, Bearden said, and the rest are expected in the second half of the fiscal year.

The ESO also has cut the number of performances for its musicians from 98 to 75 to help rein in costs, Bearden said, and it will seek another 20 percent reduction from its musicians when their contract is up this June.

The last time the ESO approached the city for funding — a request for $100,000 in August — it was a last-ditch effort, Bearden said. “In August, we were three weeks away from opening a season and literally we couldn’t. We had no cash on hand.”

“That was a do-or-die situation at that time,” Bearden said. “We have gone past that crisis — we are no longer in that do-or-die situation — we were able to start and successfully launch (the season).”

Council questions

Council members questioned Bearden on whether the ESO has been doing its own fundraising over the past two years, and on whether — if the funding was extended — the ESO could promise to remain solvent.

While the ESO does bring prominence to Elgin’s image, whether that is worth $150,000 when times are tight for the city is a concern, said Council Member Tish Powell.

“I will borrow a term you used: ‘stopping the bleeding,’ ” Powell said. “We have gone through some difficult times here at the city, including two layoffs.

“I am just a little disappointed that the ESO did not stop their bleeding a whole lot sooner,” she said. “It sounds like you used the foundation money … until last spring when you really started to make cuts.”

“I am not comfortable with what I have seen. I have not seen a solid plan for generating income,” Powell said. “With a little work … you can find several donors that can come up with the $150,000 a year that you are asking us for now.”

‘Deeply disappointed’

Mayor David Kaptain was harsher in his words for Bearden, adding that he felt the ESO had not been open in its dealings with him, and the city, in the past year.

“I am a subscriber … and I am deeply disappointed in the ESO,” Kaptain said. “I have tried to be transparent, and I don’t think you have been that to us. You are going to have to be as clear as can be. I have been meeting with the board and (former CEO Dale Lonis) for almost a year … it has been a moving target for me.”

If the city council does not approve the funding at a future meeting, the ESO will keep going, Bearden said.

“It makes it easier if we do have support … but we intend to go forward,” Bearden said.

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