Public pressure pushes library district to reconsider fees


Not long ago, a big chunk of community theater in Summerlin had fallen into the throes of life support, the result of a Draconian fee increase for the use of the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center at 1771 Inner Circle Drive.

It appeared as if nothing could save Signature Productions, Broadway Bound and other production companies - that is, not until resuscitation arrived in the form of public pressure. That led to political pressure, and suddenly a more compromising attitude emerged on the part of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District Board of Trustees.

So much so, in fact, that a noteworthy meeting of the library district's board is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 13. It's expected to reflect not only the sudden change of heart but also a more compromising fee structure. The meeting will be at the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road.

"We have gone through a tough time, necessitating cuts in staff, reductions in library hours and other major cost-saving moves," said Jeanne Goodrich, library district executive director, adding that these were largely the result of severely reduced income from property taxes.

"When we first made the decision in 2010 to increase our rates, we were under the impression that we hadn't raised rental fees since 1994," she said. "We have a volunteer archivist who subsequently discovered that our rates haven't been increased since 1988 and possibly earlier.

"But our board has listened to the concerns of the public and the plight of the production groups, and, at our Sept. 13 meeting, my staff will propose a new fee structure as a compromise," Goodrich said. "I might add that we have been subsidizing about 80 percent of the costs (of the production companies)."

The 10-member library board raised hackles in some quarters when it drastically increased rental rates for theatrical companies to such an extent that it would have ended the existence of community theater in Summerlin as we know it.

After spending a year weighing proposals for raising fees at its five performing arts centers scattered throughout the county, the library district's board in April 2011 settled on increasing the fee structure for its long-standing tenants from $10 an hour to $170 an hour. And the rate for light and sound technicians, so integral to such performances, was increased from $12 to $40 an hour. As might be expected, the furor that followed grew from loud to deafening.

"Our all-inclusive rates jumped from $3,700 for every eight shows to $27,000," said Marci Riedy, a volunteer involved with the children's production company Broadway Bound. "That means our ticket prices, which previously ranged from $10 to $12 for children, seniors and other adults, would have to correspond more than seven times to the raise in rates."

Riedy added that the rates for Broadway Bound had been increased to such an extent that the company could no longer afford to perform at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center.

The most active tenant at the performing arts center has been Signature Productions, which performed four monthlong shows a year, averaging almost 6,000 patrons per show.

"We have been an integral part of the Summerlin community for 17 years," said Dr. Karl Larsen, executive director of the nonprofit theater company.

Tickets for Signature's performances, which sold for $18 and $20, would have to be raised to almost $60, Larsen said, adding, "Our patrons have told us they would not be able to pay that amount."

As a result, Signature had to cancel its fall and Christmas shows at the Summerlin Library center. However, it is in talks to do a spring show next year at the Starbright Theatre in Sun City.

Others who performed regularly at the Summerlin Library center, representing the Las Vegas Ballet Company and the James Seastrand Helping Hands group, vehemently voiced displeasure over the rate increase during a recent hearing before the library board.

The Board of County Commissioners and the Las Vegas City Council each appoint five of the library trustees. County Commissioner Larry Brown, whose voting district includes the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center, said "some of us have been in contact with the library board.

"We're quite hopeful there can be a compromise in the rates," he added.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, "All For Nothing," is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

 

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