City Council asks for breakdown of how city funds will support performing arts centers

City Hall on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Eddy Martinez/The Signal
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Santa Clarita City Council members are requesting a breakdown of how the $155,000 they approved Tuesday will be spent to support operations for two performing arts centers.

The request came after Mayor Marsha McLean pointed out during the council’s regular meeting at City Hall that there are verbiage differences in the meeting’s agenda and a contract between the city and the Santa Clarita Community College District for the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at College of the Canyons.

McLean requested the financial breakdown from the dais Tuesday.

“In other words, are they buying equipment with it? Are they paying salary with it?” McLean asked. “I just think for transparency’s sake we should know how our money is being spent.”

The city had entered into separate agreements with both the community college district for the PAC and the Newhall School District for the Newhall Family Theatre for the Performing Arts — for maintenance, renovations and upkeep at each facility. The city’s contributions amount to $75,000 to the Newhall School District and $80,000 to the community college district for each year of the three years in the agreements.

McLean raised concern about the distribution of these city funds toward the PAC after reading in the agenda that the money received is “to keep the venue state-of-the-art, which includes stage re-flooring, seat replacement and lighting and sound-equipment replacement and upgrades,” the agenda reads.

The agreement, however, reads that the $80,000 is “to be applied at the district’s discretion to the salary of the PAC’s managing director,” in addition to maintenance work.

“I would just like to know that the money is being spent for what it states in the agenda item and not going solely for the salary,” McLean said.

Councilman Cameron Smyth agreed with the mayor, saying he believes funds should go “to all the items that are articulated in the agenda report. Because if the city’s money is paying for a substantial portion of someone’s salary, then should that person be a city employee?”

“The agreement has gone through different iterations in terms of it used to pay for a person and then the college asked for a little more flexibility so that they could put the money where it was most needed in order to operate the facility,” said City Manager Ken Striplin. “We are very confident that the money is being used for the operations and maintenance of the facility.”

Eric Harnish, public information officer for COC, said he did not have an immediate breakdown available of whether city funds covered for salary, maintenance or both. He said that typically five organizations benefit from the venue on a yearly basis, which city dollars “allow for use by the organizations for 21 (percent) of the days the college (and the PAC) is open. These organizations present an average of 33 public performances each year attended by approximately 25,000 people.”

At the meeting, Phil Ellis, former Newhall School District board president, said, “We pride ourselves on being stewards of public funds and on that basis I asked the theater manager on how that money has been spent and where we’d like to spend.”

He said the district has been able to make several enhancements, including the expansion of the venue’s audio equipment. With new funds, the district plans to establish an online web series that teaches theater history and basic theater terminology, and develop extra rehearsal space and programming to teach students all aspects of theater.  

Councilwoman Laurene Weste said she was grateful for having two performing arts centers that provide access to affordable and quality performances to residents.

“You want to know where your money went at the end of the year for specific nuts and bolts, great,” Weste said. “But I think we’re blessed and this is a good thing.”

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