Here are excerpts from public debate, comments and interviews by the Hendersonville Lightning about the Flat Rock Playhouse and proposed occupancy tax.
County commissioners discussed the proposed 1-cent hotel tax increase on July 18 but took no action. Commissioners set a public meeting on Aug. 8 at 1 p.m. to take up the issue again.
Steve Carlisle (former Playhouse actor, theater professor at Western Carolina University): The primary responsibility of any board of trustees is a fiduciary responsibility of financial success. In 2005 the theater had a surplus, and then they had this board of trustees come in, and we know that they have lost $1.4 million in 2010, and we haven't seen the numbers for 2011. But the (IRS form) 990 for 2011 should be out in about a month and that should tell us whether they've been successful in their business practices or not. And what are those business practices? Here we go into a recession in 2008, or 2005, and they raise ticket praises, they raise salaries of employees, they hire more year-round employees, they open a satellite theater downtown, during a recession and are now in discussions about opening another theater in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. I see nothing wrong with making money in theater; for 57 years Mr. Farquhar did that. He did it by putting on the kind of entertainment that the people wanted to see at a ticket price that people wanted to pay. If you don't have a good product and you don't have it at a good price it's not right for the taxpayers of Henderson County to have to pay for that, or the tourists that come here.
Vincent Marini, Playhouse director: It's not fair, we agree, to pass a tax when we haven't had the opportunity to present an honest straightforward plan to you or to the other people that the tax affects. The inns and the hotels are some our greatest partners in this community. We support everything that they do. And we believe that with the right information, and by telling them how we're going to use these funds to help everyone in the community we think we can develop a sense of consensus around this. I think it's very important you give us the time to show you how these funds are going to be expended and also to show the inns and hotels what that tax would go for and how it would benefit them.
Chairman Tommy Thompson: There's been all kinds of statements that have been made, none of which have been totally and completely in my opinion verified either way. It would be for the sole purpose of a forum, not for the public but for the Playhouse and its management, its tax people, its attorney, the chairman of the board, and this board have a forum, and that's hash all this out and let's air all this information and make sure we understand what the status of these things are.
Larry Young: I have been doing a lot of homework on this. When I was with General Motors they taught me how to do a double entry financial statement. I can show you a lot of things in these that says it's bad business management, and one is raising salaries... When you go into this bad economy, you have to cut your expenses, they have increased their expenses drastically. One of the things is Mr. Marini's salary. It went from 2009 at $44,000 in 2010, to $103,000.
Vincent Marini (from the back of the room): That's not accurate. I wasn't here.
[The $44,000 figure Young cited was four months salary.]
Young: They're gonna take our occupancy tax money and take it to North Myrtle Beach for the Playhouse down there. How you going to separate that? I'm bringing information that needs to be out to the public.
Thompson: And I'm trying to get it there but not through you only.
Young: It's been on the agenda. Everybody should do their homework ... Steve Carlisle spoke the truth.
Bill O'Connor: We're talking about two or three hundred thousand dollars, it's a lot of money, maybe as much as half million. There is an incredible amount of interest both ways. I want to point out that this county passed a budget with a $5.7 million deficit this year. And I have not seen that number printed in any media, no one has come before the board to talk about that number, and we're getting ourselves exercised over initially $100,000 allocation to the Playhouse, and we have a $5.7 million deficit that is not being discussed. This is an issue that we do need to hash out ... I would be gratified if people in this community and the media that supposedly serves this community would exercise its judgment and its talent to point out that it's not a half million; it's $5.7 million.
Thompson: Mr. Young, I am not in anyway prohibiting you from telling anything you might know or asking any questions that you have. But I think to come in today and to bring that to a vote with their not being a full understanding is wrong for us to do. ... The Playhouse likewise needs the opportunity to answer these questions rather than our just saying this is what the facts are and moving forward with some type of motion.
Young: You know kicking the can down the road is not a good thing to do, the federal government has proved that. Especially when you've got a horse with a bit in its mouth and run away and that's what we've got here. They're in financial trouble.
Mike Edney: I think this whole thing's a lot bigger than the Playhouse. ... I think we need to look at the big picture as far as Playhouse and Travel and Tourism and what our goals are as far as the future of our economy locally. I think we don't need to be attacking the Playhouse and nitpicking their 990s when we don't do that with all the other nonprofits that we give money to. I'm not going to accuse Mr. Young of mismanagement of the Osborne Oldsmobile Parts Department, I think that's totally improper and I think what's he's done with the Playhouse is improper. Especially with them not having the opportunity to defend themselves. I think we need to have our tourism folks to enhance tourism for the entire community. It's not just going to benefit the Playhouse, it's going to benefit everybody if it's done right.
Young: When I was with General Motors I was the service manager of the month and service manager of the year several times. When I came to Osborne Oldsmobile they were in a losing proposition. When I retired in 2005 that parts and service had made money every year and had been in the black and had stayed in business until it started going down after I left. So, to speak to my reputation, I think you need to speak to yours about losing your law license, too.
Thompson: Gentleman, let's move on.
Young: That's the way I feel about it. Some of the emails that you sent out is not correct either.
Edney: Quit blaming everybody's business practices. That's all you've ever done. If you disagree with somebody you attack 'em, and that's not right.
Vincent Marini: I just wish I understood why (Commissioner Young) is so angry. I don't understand the level of anger that he is portraying. The Playhouse is a community organization that's a nonprofit like any other. The majority of the people that work at the Playhouse are certainly underpaid. I just don't quite understand where the level of vitriol comes from. Unfortunately, a lot of the information he has, as you can tell from the salary comment, and from the North Myrtle Beach comment, is incomplete information. He's never once asked us or requested information from us. That's why I'm glad they're going to give us the opportunity to explain so he understands we're not the enemy. We're really just a nonprofit theater that's trying to survive in a very difficult time and I really believe with the right funding we can do some things for the tourism industry here that have never been done before.
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