PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Town Council decided to fund the Pittsfield Theatre for one more year after a debate that lasted more than two hours Tuesday night.

The council considered excluding the theater’s operating costs, projected at $96,320, from the municipal budget during preliminary discussions on Dec. 3, planning to provide just $12,295 to the theater for building maintenance.

But after an extensive debate before a well-attended meeting despite the snow, the council decided to earmark $73,106 on the 2020 municipal budget to support the theater and to provide the theater committee time enough to become a full 501(c)(3) organization.

Council member Heather Donahue made the motion to amend the budget to cover theater costs, which was unanimously agreed upon by fellow council members and the mayor.

Before the council voted to continue providing operational funding to the theater at a lower amount, an amendment to provide the full $96,320 failed in a split vote, which caused some attending the meeting to leave.

Mayor Timothy Nichols, Councilor Caleb Curtis and Donahue voted to approve the full funding while councilors Howard Margolskee, Matthew Bolster and Robert Stackhouse voted against it.

But the council continued to discuss the merits of funding operational costs.

“I think we should give these people another year,” Nichols said. “… I know money’s tight. The bottom line is if we give them another year, worse that can happen we fund it, spend some money. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

Nichols emphasized that funding the theater for another year would allow the town to separate itself completely from ownership of the theater.

“This town and government shouldn’t run the movie theater,” he said. “We shouldn’t be running this. The experts should be running it. We’re not cut out to do that, and they are.”

Fellow councilors expressed concerns about the building at 137 Main St. in Pittsfield and the logistics of its ownership.

“I will say something that hits home with me.” Curtis said. “What do we do with the building? I don’t agree with just walking away from the building. It’s going to be a big problem. All those things need to be addressed, and I don’t know how to get there because there’s so many pieces.”

The council went on to weigh the options of providing the theater with a lesser amount of funding and decided on the $12,295 for building maintenance and $60,811 from taxpayers to cover the gap between revenue and expenses.

Among the theater supporters present at Tuesday’s meeting to ask the council to reconsider its decision to cut funding from the theater was Jaime Jensen, the manager of the Pittsfield Theatre and a member of the theater committee.

“The theater not only has the ability to entertain but to teach,” Jensen said. “If we are given a chance, we can present culture and diversity. We have only begun to dip into the potential of the theater. … We’re moving in the right direction.”

Debra Susi, a theater arts teacher at Maine Central Institute and director at Waterville Opera House, also addressed the council.

“I’ve spent the last 15 years working with the Waterville Opera House, and I can tell you the reasons why Waterville Creates! is there,” Susi said. “It’s because we worked very hard to show what a creative economy can do … I’m asking to please think about reconsidering the funding of this. I understand dollars are tight, but I’m pleading for our students in this community to rethink and reconsider funding for one more year for this group (the theater committee) to do their thing.”

Ann Mathews, chairwoman of the theater committee, said the council’s decision to fund the theater for one more year will motivate the committee to work harder to become a nonprofit organization.

“We have less money, but that just means we have to rally even closer and work even harder, but we will continue the process of becoming a 501(c)(3),” Mathews said in a phone call Wednesday.

A similar situation unfolded in 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.

During a council meeting on Oct. 1, the theater committee asked the council to fund the theater for another year to give them time to become a 501(c)(3) organization and separate from town ownership.

“Our ultimate goal is to be a stand-alone nonprofit that can assume ownership of the building and operations,” Jennifer Watson, theater committee secretary, said on Oct 1.

The committee also presented a reduced budget of $96,320 with $62,275 in expected revenue at that Oct. 1 meeting, significantly less than the budget proposed in January that was projected to cover $145,366 in costs but take in just $57,664.

The council’s decision to continue funding for another year also eliminates the threat of the theater closing Dec. 31, which Jensen said would have likely happened if the funds were cut down to just the maintenance costs.

Events and information on the theater can be found on its website.

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