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Promised Majestic Theatre extra staffer won't be hired this year

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The Majestic Theater in Corvallis.

Despite expectations that the city-owned Majestic Theatre would be able to hire a second full-time employee this year, Corvallis city staff now say there just isn’t enough money.

In June, the Corvallis City Council authorized up to a full-time position but required the funding to come from the Majestic’s approved budget as part of the Parks and Recreation Department, meaning other areas might have to be trimmed. Staff told the officials the new worker will have to wait during the council meeting Monday, Sept. 19.

Recommending “incremental adjustments” over a period of six to nine months, Parks and Recreation Director Meredith Petit said the budget could be recalibrated to fund the new job, expected to cost around $100,000 in the first year.

Climate activists Sunrise Corvallis demonstrate outside the Corvallis City Council's chambers downtown. A Green New Deal resolution drafted by the group is under consideration by the council.

“Our model right now is to aim to provide most of the production support through paid employees,” Petit said. “We do fill in with volunteers on some of those duties, but in large part we are supporting that by paid hourly positions.”

Among the actions to be taken over the next several months regarding theater operations:

  • Reduce reliance on and rising costs of part-time staff by leaning on volunteers for technical jobs and using independent contractors.
  • Increase revenue through long-term rental bookings and special events as well as partnerships, donations and sponsorships.
  • Establish a Majestic Theatre Advisory Committee.
  • Review the supervisor position to align more with departmental needs rather than being specific to the theater.

The theater faces reduced productions and programs, and concerns have been raised about burnout and turnover among part-timer employees without more full-timers. Intended to be a self-sustaining operation, the Majestic has been relying on city subsidies to stay in the black.

Breaking down the Majestic’s $754,000 budget for the year, Petit highlighted personnel costs of $584,200, around 77% of expenses and up from $463,100 in 2021’s budget. Non-personnel costs (materials, utilities, licenses, advertising, etc.) account for $169,800, slashed from $257,900 for the year prior. The theater’s overall 2021-2022 budget was $721,000.

In a staff report, Petit said cuts to non-personnel costs made over the years to accommodate increased staff expenses can’t continue without “significant service level modifications, thus essentially eliminating the need for additional staff.”

A budget analysis indicated cost savings of around $40,000 in part-timers by more efficient assignments based on position and the type of work, although $10,000 of that would be needed for private contractors to fulfill some duties. The new tech coordinator would replace a part-time role, creating another $34,000 in savings.

The $64,000 in savings isn’t enough though, leaving another $36,000 to be found elsewhere. City leaders have said they don’t want to further subsidize operations, already spending $204,800 this year to keep the Majestic afloat.

“With that $64,000, rather than fund an FTE today, we think we should use that to try to get ourselves back to a balanced budget,” Petit said.

Heading into budget season, Majestic supporters pleaded with Corvallis leaders to provide more full-time staff for the city-owned theater in its $241 million overall budget for 2022-2023.

City staff “strongly” recommended against adding full-time staff at the Majestic, citing the need for consistent policy, according to a city document, as well as keeping true to campaign messaging regarding the 2019 tax levy, from which the theater receives a portion.

Majestic revenue failed to meet projections in four of the past six years of operations under the city, according to a city document, which states there is a “significant reliance” on a small group of donors who close the revenue gap at the end of each year.

Adding to the Majestic’s struggle, in July the city fired Jimbo Ivy, who had supervised the theater since 2015. Ivy said he was terminated for not following directions from his superiors about speaking out on the budget process in pursuit of more staff. 

Cody Mann covers Benton County and the cities of Corvallis and Philomath. He can be contacted at 541-812-6113 or Cody.Mann@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @News_Mann_.

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