Will attempt to respond to the comments regarding the Theater Company:
1. While I do not recall the tradeoff for the 15th and West Avenue Building for the old lifesaving station, I firmly believe a similar commitment was made when the new Public Works Complex was built in the 1100 block of Haven and that the 46th Street property would be sold to offset the cost. As we know, that trade off never occurred either. I am big on when a governmental entity makes a promise, absent some extraordinary circumstances, they must keep it. Clearly in both of these situations, that was not the case. With respect to the 15th Street building and the old lifesaving station, Roy Wagner and his supporters should have forced the city to sell 15th Street prior to approving the bond ordinance for the lifesaving building. Frankly, I never understood the connection between the new Public Works Complex and 46th Street as the 46th Street building is not a Public Works building. That was simply thrown out there to ease the financial concern of the Public Works project with no intent to follow through.
2. Regarding the lifesaving station, not only is the taxpayer responsible for the cost of acquisition, but much of the cost of renovation. The city paid approximately $750,000 for renovations of the lifesaving station with the commitment from the nonprofit lifesaving group that they would pay the funds back to the city. That was at least 10 years ago and based on my review of the city records, that “loan’ has not been paid off. So if we want to hold people accountable, let’s start with that long standing, considerable payable. In addition, while the nonprofit has secured some grants, the city has also funded additional work beyond the initial $750,000, so to Vic’s point, the taxpayer has significantly funded a building that the public said “no” to in a referendum.
3. Knowing how government works, I bet if I OPRA utility accounts, the city is paying for utilities for the lifesaving building. Just a hunch.
4. When the initial lease for the Theater Company was presented to the public, I was still working and not involved with FIT, however, I would speak to Mike Dattilo frequently as we would compare notes as administrators. The issue of the theater company came up and my position was that I saw the theater company as another nonprofit community group that provides services to the town, especially the youth of the community. Instead of baseball or football, it was the performing arts, so the theater company should have the same access to city facilities just like the little league or the football hawks. Whether it is a building or a field, same concept of supporting groups that benefit the community.
5. Concerning the mold and required repairs to the building, it was always unrealistic to think that a small theater company was going to pay for $60,000 in remediation or repairs to a building they do not own. Like any landowner, the owner should be responsible for major repairs, particularly when the need for the repairs pre-existed the tenant. Does the city make little league or the football Hawks pay for capital improvements to recreational fields and facilities. The answer is no. I squarely place the blame for the mishandling of the initial theater company lease on City Hall. Like with the Public Works Complex and 46th Street building, city government allowed an expectation to develop in the public that was not a fair representation of what was really taking place. The city should have simply come out and stated that repairs to the building would be made prior to the tenant, the theater company, moving into the building. Instead, and for some unknown reason, they elected to not fully disclose the scope of the arrangement with the theater company, which was unfair to all, as it placed the beneficial relationship under a cloud.
6. The theater company uses approximately one third of the building as a work shop to construct scenery and to make costumes. That function cannot be transferred to the Music Pier. Besides the successful Broadway shows, the theater company offers workshops and private lessons to raise money. That function is much better suited for a smaller space versus the large Music Pier. Finally, the busiest time of the year for the theater company is the summer, same as the Music Pier, so there would be numerous scheduling conflicts to make the transfer of the theater company function to the Music Pier not viable.
7. The theater company offers a camp to the Primary and Intermediate Schools once a year. In my opinion, it is a very successful program with the theater company offering considerable resources to the program. The Sea Isle City Board of Education helps offset the cost of the program.
8. Concerning whether the theater company offers “free” services, first off there is nothing free in life, somebody has to pay for it. Most towns have adopted a “stipend” concept or approach to provide financial assistance to community groups. Take for example Little League, the local government would provide a stipend for each player signed up for the program. So, while the program may appear to be free, the local taxpayer is helping offset the cost of uniforms and equipment with the stipend, so when you take into consideration the stipend and the facilities, local government heavily subsidizes these nonprofit community groups. There is nothing wrong with this practice as these groups provide a tangible benefit to the community.
9. Like most nonprofit groups, the theater company engages in fund raising programs beyond the workshops and lessons. At their Broadway plays at OCHS during the summer, they sell merchandise to fund raise and even raffled off a week in a Florida vacation home. So, they appear active on the fund raising front, but with COVID-19, fund raising efforts have been adversely impacted.
10. Regarding Tony Wilson’s connection with the theater company, please judge a program based on its merits and not on its association with a particular individual.
Hopefully, I have addressed the questions and concerns raised in regards to the theater company. At the council meeting on March 11, I plan on speaking, as an individual, in full support of the Ocean City Theater Company.
David Breeden, President
Ocean City Fairness in Taxes