Newport City Councilor ears are still ringing from the uproar over word that the city is pondering various sales of city property around town, including the Visual Arts Center, to help meet some big expenses coming up for sewer and water system upgrades.
The council said, at the time, that it was considering all city properties for possible sale. But they did instruct Community Director Derrick Tokos to clean up some lot line confusion on the VAC and begin to ascertain an estimated value of VAC property.
KABOOOOM! went the arts community.
Today the council, in a workshop session, said that there are no immediate plans to sell the VAC, but, getting back to the city’s budget dilemma, they ordered Tokos to begin soliciting suggestions from the public as to how the VAC could be operated without city taxpayers being on the short list for funding improvements, repairs and maintenance on the building.
Tokos drew up a list of recent expenses the city has paid out on behalf of the VAC as well as revenues that have come in from VAC patrons.
In 2010: $7,503.50 in revenue. $89,381.53 in expenses paid by the city.
In 2011: $10,307 in revenue. $64,184.84 in expenses paid by the city.
In 2012: $9,252 in revenue. $62,257.26 in expenses paid by the city.
Basically, $37,000 in revenue vs. 216,000 in expenses over the past three years.
The council Monday said it wants to get the word out that the arts community is being asked to develop other management and/or financial support ideas to help the city lighten the VAC’s load on the city budget. The council also took the VAC issue off the City Council agenda for October 7th in order for the “idea exploration” process to begin.
Mayor Sandra Roumagoux, herself an accomplished artist, said that those who originally supported the creation of the Visual Arts Center did their job years ago – and now it’s time for “the younger patrons” of the arts to step up and take some responsibility. She and other councilors say they want to hear from the arts community how it is willing to take a more active role in coming up with creative ways to meet the costs of keeping the building open and well maintained.
Councilors tossed around some questions for the arts community and the public like:
1) Is it in the public interest to support the VAC?
2) Is the VAC the proper facility to fill that support role?
3) Are there other venues that might better or more economically serve the arts community and their patrons?
Tokos was asked to develop a list of questions aimed at promoting greater public discussion about the VAC and its contribution to the community and at what cost to the public. A longer list of questions is expected to be delivered to the city council at the October 7th city council meeting.
But again, the council has back-tracked on any talk of selling the VAC. Councilor Dick Beemer even exhorted, “The PAC (Performing Arts Center) is NOT NEXT!!”