PITTSFIELD — The future of the Pittsfield Community Theatre is once again up in the air after the town council decided to exclude its operating costs from the municipal budget during preliminary discussions during a Dec. 3 meeting.

The town’s budget is due to be voted on during the Dec. 17 council meeting. If the theater is left out, it will shut down on Dec. 31, according to theater manager Jaime Jensen.

According to Town Manager Kathryn Ruth, the council would still provide funding to manage the building, but not for the theater to screen movies or hold events.

“In the budget for next year is around $12,000 for snow removal, heating, things like that,” Ruth said. “It’s just the actual operations that the council wouldn’t fund.”

The council’s decision comes after the theater committee presented its reduced budget for 2020 during a meeting on Oct. 1.

“The committee looked into (the) budget to see where cuts can be made,” said Jennifer Watson, committee secretary for the theater committee. “The committee assisted Jaime (Jensen) in creating a new budget of $96,320 … expected revenue is $62,275, leaving a $34,045 gap which the town funds.”

Those numbers are significantly less than the 2019 budget numbers that projected $145,366 in costs and $57,664 in revenue.

A similar situation unfolded last January when a council meeting lasting more than six hours resulted in the decision to cut the theater’s budget by $45,000. Councilors also wrestled with the decision to close the theater for a year or permanently.

The committee reduced the 2020 budget by reorganizing staff, changing concession prices and having the manager book the films.

Additionally, ticket prices were increased by $1 and the theater’s hours were changed. Now it’s closed two days a week to save money.

“This doesn’t mean they want it to close,” Ruth said. “They just think the building needs to get fixed and straightened away or someone else has to take it over because they feel like they need to spend the tax money elsewhere.”

During the meeting on Oct. 1, the committee also announced its plans to become a 501(c)(3) organization and separate from the town completely.

A 501(c)(3) classification exempts a nonprofit organization from federal taxes.

But in order to fulfill this classification, the committee asked the council to put the theater into the budget for just one more year to give them time to become a full nonprofit. Mayor Timothy Nichols said he would be in favor of that course of action.

“If you can come to us with the amount that you just presented, I will go on record and say I’d vote to have it another year,” Nichols said on Oct. 1.

During the meeting on Dec. 3, Nichols maintained his support to keep the theater open.

Ann Mathews, head of the theater committee, also addressed the council during this meeting.

“I don’t have anything really planned but I have lots to say,” Mathews said. “This is a process for all of us. We’re a bunch of people who’ve come together and done a ton of work for our town and the theater this year, unlike ever before … it’s a work in progress, and this mess is not going to get cleaned up in a year’s time, but I think it can.”

The decision to exclude the theater from the budget has come as a shock to Jensen, who said that she thought the new budget would allow the theater to operate for another year until the nonprofit status was solidified.

“I’m in shock. I thought the new budget was a win,” the manager said in a phone call Thursday. “I thought we could work toward coming out of the red, but that takes time.”

Jensen emphasized that the theater is a necessity for the town.

“This building can’t just sit here. It needs to be occupied,” Jensen said. “We need this theater. We need the arts in this town.”

In spite of the council’s preliminary decision, Ruth told members of the finance committee at a meeting on Thursday that the theater has shown improvement over the last year.

“They’re more organized now, which is very good, and working hard on different projects,” Ruth said. “And the different events and activities have always taken place, but they haven’t been organized so they take place in a regular fashion, which now they’re doing so they can generate more money.”

Jensen said the committee will present its case to the council on Tuesday as one last attempt for inclusion in the 2020 budget.

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