Newton hears funding requests

Newton organizations, such as Green Room Community Theatre, Newton Depot Authority, the Newton-Conover Auditorium Authority and others, asked the city for almost $975,000 in special appropriations in the year ahead.
However, a budget plan unveiled this month by Newton City Manager Todd Clark comes up $112,000 short of requested funding levels and leaves many of those organizations with no city financial support in the year ahead.
"Anything that did not provide a direct benefit to our citizens from city services was not included in this budget, and this was the same way last year," Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax said during a recent Newton budget workshop. "We are going to have some special appropriations. We are just going to have to put them in there."
Still, Mullinax said it is a "sign of the times" that agencies that received city support in the past may not see that support in the year ahead.
"The mouths to feed are getting more, and the portions with which to feed them are getting smaller," he said.
Before City Council determines just how much Newton sets aside for agencies, such as the Catawba County Historical Association, the county library system and United Arts Council of Catawba County, city leaders Thursday invited representatives to plead their case for funding.
Following are details offered by representatives from various community organizations, in the order in which information was presented.

The Green Room Community Theatre
The Green Room Community Theatre requested $40,000 for the budget year ahead, after the organization did not receive any city funds last year. Two years ago, the organization received $25,000 toward the Old Post Office Playhouse (OPOP), a project that cost $3.88 million plus interest, according to Green Room Board President Al Bandy Jr.
"I believe the city has a role in funding this project," he said, adding the community theater organization raised $2.58 million, but still seeks $1.3 million plus interest. Funding from the city will go toward retiring that debt as part of a capital campaign contribution, not toward operating expenses, he said.
"As city leaders, you understand the importance of economic development to bring businesses and people into Newton," Bandy said. "Since the OPOP opened, we have already brought audiences totaling over 20,000 people to the court square in downtown Newton. By the end of our first year, we expect that number to be 30,000."
Bandy said those audiences come from inside and outside the county, and they have a positive impact on restaurants operating downtown.
"The OPOP is real, touchable economic development," Bandy said. "The OPOP should be funded if for no other reason than our role in economic development."
Bandy said the OPOP also should be funded because it enhances the quality of life in Newton just as other facilities and organizations which have been previously funded by the city.

United Arts Council of Catawba County
The United Arts Council of Catawba County requested $13,580 for the budget year ahead, after the organization received $2,000 last year and $3,000 the year prior.
Arts Council Board President Jeff Neuville said the funding request represents $1 for each citizen of Newton, and it is standard that the organization asks $1 per capita for all areas of the county. He also said that money the city provides for the Arts Council is returned to other organizations in the community.
"Of the $2,000 you gave us last year, we gave back $1,950, through the Community Cultural Fund," he said adding those funds went toward Newton MayFest, the Newton Conover Community Band, the Music and Mud Festival, summer reading programs and other activities.
Further, Neuville said that during the past several years Arts Council has provided more than $50,000 in operating dollars to Newton-located organizations such as The Green Room and Catawba County Historical Association.
"The Arts Council really is a cultural agency for the city of Newton and for the county of Catawba, providing services and activities for the entire county," he said.

Catawba County Library
The Catawba County Library system did not make any formal funding request, according to budget documents. Last year, Newton provided $15,000 for the library, which has its main branch in Newton. In 2010, Newton provided $25,000 to the county's library system.
"The money the city gives to the library is used to purchase books," Catawba County Library Director Karen Foss said, adding there are 18,000 city residents who have a library card and use the library. "The library offers programs. It offers access to computers and storytimes ... There are many ways the library impacts citizens and provides services to them. It is a core city service, and it is a very important thing for our neighbors and our children."

Newton-Conover Auditorium
Newton-Conover Auditorium Authority requested $35,000 during the year ahead, after receiving $30,000 last year. In 2010, this organization received $40,000 from the city of Newton.
Newton played a critical role in preserving and restoring the Newton-Conover Auditorium said Executive Director Reggie Helton, and the city maintains five places on the organization's board of directors. Funding would go toward oprational costs.
"We are striving to improve the quality of life for the 24,000 people who use our facility each year," he said, adding that since the facility's primary tenant (The Green Room) relocated, it has received a complete make-over. It now hosts a wide range of concerts and events, including a recent performance by Doc Watson and an upcoming show with Sam Bush. "In the past people have gone outside the county to see quality entertainment of this type ... With the city of Newton supporting our facility, it will become the best location for performing arts in the community."
Among other developing activities at the auditorium is a fine arts school and other programming, as well as a church which meets weekly and generates $15,000 in revenue per year, Helton said.
"We enjoy this community. We enjoy living here, but the arts in all forms enhances our quality of life. It helps people want to be residents here, and it helps bring businesses here," said Newton-Conover Auditorium Authority board member Anne Abernethy Wepner. "I love that building, and my family is doing what they can in memory of my father to help provide funding for the shows, but it is not enough. It is a wash: you provide money for the show and you get energy and people in, but there are still all kinds of bills to pay."

Catawba County Historical Association
The Catawba County Historical Association (CCHA) requested $3,000 from Newton, a sum that matches the city's contribution the past two years. CCHA Executive Director Melinda Herzog said those funds have previously allowed the organization to preserve its collection, which includes one of only three British Revolutionary "Red Coats" in the nation.
Herzog said the organization's collection has exceeded its space, and without outside funding, there would be no space to store or exhibit that collection.
"I consider it a treasure box," Herzog said of the 1924 Courthouse which houses the Catawba County History Museum and much of the CCHA collection. "We are fortunate to have the county's help to maintain the exterior of the courthouse, but we have responsibilities to the interior."
Herzog said soon-to-be-announced grant funding will deliver new lighting and climate monitoring devices to provide a constant humidity critical to preserving artifacts. Those grant dollars, which require matching funds, provide other refurbishing and "sprucing up" in the museum for the first time in more than 20 years, she said.
"It is critically important to realize that the unglamorous funds are the hardest to raise," she said. "Government support is the backbone of our support. As much as there is cutback, part of the vibrancy of the community comes from government spending."

Newton Depot Authority
Used by more than 5,000 people last year, the Newton Depot Authority seeks $3,000 for its North Main Avenue museum in the year ahead. The Depot received $3,000 from the city last year.
"The amount of money that we have gotten has been very helpful in helping us cover the cost of utilities and insurance," said Newton Depot Authority member Tom Warlick. "That, together with other funds, have allowed us to cover operating expenses and allows us the freedom and liberty to prepare for the expansion of our facilities."
Warlick said the Depot Authority will soon announce the development of a Narrow Gauge Railway Museum at the facility, which, he said, will be an "enormous tourist attraction for the city of Newton." The facility intends to be home to two locomotives and four vintage boxcars which are currently being refurbished for display.
"The money you provided us helped us to be free to follow that dream, and we think you will be very proud of that dream when it is made a reality," he said.
The museum is currently open on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. according to the Depot Authority website, and it also serves as a meeting place for other organizations and government entities.

Newton Conover Band
This community band, formed during Newton's Sesquicentennial Celebration, did not make any formal request for funding, according to city budget documents. In 2010, the city provided $400 to the organization, but no money last year. In prior years the city provided $1,500, according to director Jim Stockner, who said costs of putting on an annual concert is about $2,000.
Last year, former Newton-Conover High band students and the Arts Council helped secure and provide funding for the band's expenses.
"I hope we can continue to have the program," Stockner said. "We have a wide range of audience that attends, especially a lot of senior citizens. They really look forward to the program each year."