City approves $25K in opera house funding

The city of Lead has allocated an extra $10,000 for the Homestake Opera House.

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LEAD — The city of Lead will give the Historic Homestake Opera House $10,000 more than it had originally planned, but the extra funding came with a gentle reprimand from a city commissioner.

The extra funding gives the opera house $25,000 in city assistance from the 2021 budget, rather than the originally planned $15,000. City commissioners approved the increase in front of a room filled with concerned city residents and opera house board members.

But the increase came with some consternation among city commissioners, who expressed frustration about a lack of communication between opera house representatives and members of the city commission. Commissioner Don Mack said that despite a month of public meetings, where the city budget was discussed extensively, nobody from the opera house board approached the commission to plead their case for their originally requested $42,000 in funding.

“When we started working the budget and had our open budget meetings, we were advised of all the nonprofit requests for 2021, and we were advised that the Historic Homestake Opera House was requesting $42,000. We discussed a plan and where we were going in an open meeting, and it was decided we weren’t going to be able to fund that level, regardless of the money the city has one way or the other,” Mack said. “That was further implanted in my mind because nobody showed up to justify why they needed that $42,000. There was a great letter sent that explained some things, but it did not provide an opportunity to explain and discuss. The forum to do that was available and it was not taken advantage of. I realize that Patrick (O’Leary) is brand new, but the other people I am looking at know when it is important to attend and justify. I’m not suggesting that anyone should be punished for doing that, but there is no one at all who is more interested in your success than you. If it is inopportune to show up and try to work hard for your success, those opportunities were there then, not at the 11th hour. I came here tonight knowing that the mayor had attended a meeting with certain members, and they discussed things, which is what should have happened during the budget meetings. Those discussions should have taken place so we all had the opportunity to understand your mission, your goals and where we want to be. We were not afforded that opportunity.”

Mayor Ron Everett explained that he had spent the weekend meeting with members of the Historic Homestake Opera House Executive Team to discuss funding levels. But those meetings did not occur until after the opera house generated emails and social media notices, urging its membership to contact city officials to ask for more money. Everett reported that because the meetings had resulted in emotional exchanges, he had agreed to present the $25,000 funding level request to the commission as a negotiated compromise between the mayor and opera house officials.

“They were willing to come and stand and fight, but I was not wanting an emotional debate back and forth,” Everett said.

Everett opened Tuesday’s discussion by explaining the nature of his meeting with opera house officials. But he also reminded them that he had warned the board and then-Executive Director Sarah Carlson that he would decrease opera house funding levels by about $15,000 a year, over the next three years. Three years ago, funding levels for the opera house were close to about $45,000. In 2020 the city gave the opera house $30,000, and the 2021 budget called for $15,000. During city budget discussions Commissioner Joel Edgar advocated for the opera house to receive a base amount every year, rather than dropping funding levels entirely. Everett said that budget discussion is where the $25,000 number came from, which he then negotiated with the opera house board.

Patrick O’Leary, newly hired executive director of the Historic Homestake Opera House, who took his post in the spring, apologized to the commission for his lack of communication about funding.

“There was a lot of reaction to an email I wrote and posted, and I want you to know that for me life is about learning, and I am a firm believer that when you stop learning, you stop living,” he said. “I wasn’t keeping track of when the budgets were happening and when things were being reviewed. I got the information afterward and I reacted. In everything I said and wrote the first statement was always that the city has been a great supporter. I look forward to putting this behind us all and moving forward and making the opera house the jewel of the Hills it once was, and a major reason that Lead becomes the tourist destination it deserves to be.”

Commissioner Steve Stewart said before the meeting he did some homework, and discovered that over a period of 15 years funding levels at the opera house averaged about $32,000 a year, for a total of more than $500,000. Stewart asked the opera house to come forth with a five-year plan, so the city and residents would know what direction the facility was taking with the funding it receives.

O’Leary reported that the opera house board is in the process of working with an independent consultant on developing such a plan, and when it is available in about a month it will be made public. Commissioner Colin Greenfield addressed claims about the opera house losing funding during the COVID-19 shutdown, and asked whether officials had gone to opera house members to ask for increased donations. Thomas Golden, development director at the opera house, said that members had increased donations in order to help the facility obtain a $20,000 matching grant. He also reported increased activity at the opera house to earn funds, including a Singers and Songwriters show that organizers hope will become a regular event, the upcoming children’s play “Anne of Green Gables,” and a concert production of “Guys and Dolls.”

But opera house board member Jacque Fuller stressed that city support for the facility is paramount when it comes to seeking more grants and soliciting donations. “I would certainly share with you how badly we need the money,” Fuller said. “I have been asked by big funders what is your city doing and how are they involved? It shows support. It’s more important than just the money. It’s the idea that you’re giving it.”

Following a unanimous vote to give $25,000 to the opera house in 2021, commissioners approved the first reading of the city’s budget. City officials will take public comment about the budget until their final reading, scheduled for Sept. 21. The final budget must be submitted to the county by Sept. 30.

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