Fountain Inn’s City Council met on Thursday before a full house of concerned citizens and media. The regular May meeting also included a review of the Fountain Inn Master Plan, the result of 18 months of work by Greenville County Planner Andrew Ratchford.
That plan includes recommendations regarding traffic, zoning and land use, quality of life, and conservation in both the city and unincorporated areas of Fountain Inn. With a new middle school and high school opening by 2021, and new subdivisions already under construction, anticipating traffic needs–especially at 418 and Main and Quillen–is a must.
The large turnout wasn’t for the Master Plan, however. After the turmoil surrounding the FIRE Theatre Company this week (first their shows were canceled, then back on after arts patrons spoke up), citizens filled seats to hear about the future of the Younts Center for Performing Arts.
Fountain Inn’s 2017-18 budget calls for removal of the Center’s administration, and the contracting of a third party to manage and book events in the venue. The changes would also dissolve the Arts Academy, and salary would be reallocated to a Special Events Coordinator to manage the Farmers Market and two regular concert series.
City Administrator Mike Pittman said the city talked with a company “a few months ago” about assuming this responsibility at the Younts Center, and advocated for their work in other locations. He did not name the company despite his detailed statements. Mayor Sam Lee then clarified by saying that the contract would be up for bids and that a company had not been selected.
A line item in the budget already contains a cost for outsourcing the administration, assigning $140,000 as “Production Costs.”
Councilmember Matthew King voiced concerns about the difference in revenue and expenditures not being dramatic enough for the change, and inquired about new tax revenue from recent growth in the area. Pittman responded that this revenue would not be available for years, and that the Younts Center must be budgeted for today.
Councilmember Berry Woods was the first to propose a special meeting to talk with the public regarding the Younts Center. Mayor Lee announced the next regular meeting for June 8 and added, “We may try to do a public meeting ahead of that meeting to address questions about the arts center.”
As of this month, the performing arts is running at a $234,124 deficit for 2016-17, a little over $100,000 more than what was projected in last year’s budget. The new proposed budget would bring that number up to a deficit of $80,003, and illustrates that the city is indeed continuing to invest in the Younts Center.
The city’s current budget shows a surplus of more than three-quarters of a million. The proposed budget shows the great majority of that surplus carrying over for the next year, with the reserve hovering just under half a million. It is standard practice for municipalities to hold funds in reserve in case of emergencies or unforeseen needs, and to keep up the city’s credit rating.
Ward 4 Councilmember Phil Clemmer stressed on his Facebook page that the Younts Center is funded in the new budget. “We have a list of names who have volunteered to provide recommendations about the Center going forward. We are all in this together, let’s make it work.”
Fountain Inn has boasted a vibrant arts community for many years, and the new Master Plan states that FIRE Theatre Company is a source of pride for citizens. The new budget would end the group’s productions at the Younts Center. Arts advocates are concerned that outsourcing will remove local artists’ access to the Younts Center, turning it into “just another venue” instead of a facility that benefits Fountain Inn’s citizens full circle.
The new budget is not yet final, and has another month to go before it is up for a vote.
The meeting closed following an executive session pertaining to an employee in administration and performing arts. No action was taken following this session.
A special meeting has not yet been announced, but citizens may plan to attend the regular meeting on Thursday, June 8 at 6pm. Those wishing to speak at that meeting must sign up before Friday, June 2. City Hall can be reached at 864-862-1090.
Agendas will be posted at fountaininn.org