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Fort Erie Sets Aside Arts Theatre Funding

by Matthew Vandervoet | Oct 07, 2015

Reserve fund holding $1 million for theatre if fundraising efforts fail

Fort Erie councillors approved dumping nearly $1 million into a reserve fund to pay for the controversial arts theatre attached the the town’s new high school, but that doesn’t mean they’ve thrown in the towel on the fundraising efforts.

“This is not to say [this funding] will necessarily be used, it’s just prudent planning,” explained Fort Erie’s financial director, Jonathan Janzen, when reached for comment on the $936,000 in funding moved into reserve last week.

The new high school scheduled to open in 2017 is being paid for with about $20 million in funding from the province, however, the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) said that money won’t cover additional costs for amenities such as an arts theatre. If the town wanted an arts theatre at the school, Fort Erie was going to have to cough up the cash itself and hand it over to the DSBN sometime before Sept. 2017. After harsh public outcry over the cash-strapped municipality going to the local taxpayer to pay for an arts theatre, a deal was eventually struck between the town and the DSBN that saw some of the costs covered by the two parties, and a fundraising campaign launched to, potentially, cover the remainder.

The school board and the town each kicked in $500,000 to get things started, and the remaining $2 million is supposed to be collected through fundraising and sponsorships over the next two years. Any fundraising shortfall would then be covered by the town and the DSBN who would equally split the remainder. For example, if fundraising efforts only produce $1 million, the remaining $1 million needed would be split between the town and the DSBN, meaning the Fort Erie tax hike would be about 2.5 per cent.

However, eyebrows were raised last week when the town preemptively set aside the full $1 million it’s on the hook for, essentially assuming fundraising efforts will fail. According to Janzen, setting aside the money now, just in case, makes financial sense since the $1 million represents a known liability to the town’s bottom line. So rather than scramble to find the cash in 2017 at the last minute if fundraising efforts don’t produce enough cash, a reserve fund was set up last week with all the necessary money, and whatever money is produced through fundraising will be subtracted from that reserve.

Although the official fundraising campaign has yet to be launched, future Greater Fort Erie Secondary School principal Fred Louws said several sizable donations have already started to come in. Details of those fundraising efforts will be made available during the official campaign launch which is tentatively scheduled for sometime later this year.

James Culic
Niagara This Week