Elgin council continues money talks with ESO
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org March 21, 2013 12:34AM
The Elgin Symphony Orchestra performs during an event at Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin on March 4. | Sun-Times Media~File Photo
Updated: April 23, 2013 1:52PM
ELGIN — The Elgin Symphony Orchestra now owes the city about $263,000 as talks continue between City Manager Sean Stegall and ESO volunteer chief executive officer David Bearden about resolving the debt.
“They are not dragging their feet in any way,” Stegall said.
Rather, he said, his schedule has allowed him to meet just twice with Bearden since Bearden’s Jan. 23 appearance before the council about the debt.
At that meeting, Bearden asked the city for $150,000 per year for the next three years from the city, but he concluded his presentation by noting that the ESO would be able to go on with or without the money. The request did not include paying back rent for the ESO’s use of the city-owned Hemmens Cultural Center downtown.
Bearden had asked for the meetings, and another one will be held next week, Stegall told the council Wednesday night.
In November, 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.
On Wednesday, Stegall noted that anytime the ESO performs at the Hemmens, the amount owed the city grows.
In January, Bearden told the council that the ESO’s 2012-13 fiscal year is shaping up better than previously forecast and that final financial information from the 2011-12 budget is better than previously believed. Bearden also noted that a $600,000 estate donation helped prop up the symphony’s 2012-13 budget, making the symphony solvent for this year.
The ESO also cut the number of performances for its musicians from 98 to 75 to help rein in costs and will seek another 20 percent reduction from its musicians when their contract is up this June.
The update Wednesday came at the behest of Councilman John Prigge, who said he was looking for “some sign of good faith for payment” as the meter runs on the amount owed.
Stegall said three issues are on the table with the ESO: the money owed; the viability of the symphony being important to the city; and the impact of the ESO on the Hemmens.
Prigge had suggested that the ESO lease the Hemmens from the city to operate it, but Stegall said the organization is not interested in the proposal.
Stegall said talks have gotten as far as a preliminary draft of a payment agreement, with amounts still to be determined for those payments.
Councilman Rich Dunne noted the city’s Cultural Arts Commission has withheld money earmarked for the ESO because of the debt issue, while Councilman Robert Gilliam said that all matters with the symphony should be resolved and presented as one complete package for the council to consider.
Mayor David Kaptain said he wants to let the process take its course and noted that the current ESO season ends May 1. As such, he noted, the symphony would want to get matters resolved before its 2013-2014 season starts next fall.