Commentary

Stop All the Whining to Get Government Funds

By J. LINDSAY FULLER | Oct 12, 2016

The Sept. 28 edition of The SandPaper was a very interesting read. I could not believe the number of articles that involved private individuals whining for help from “government,” i.e., the rest of us, to support something that apparently the public has not felt the need to support directly.

Let’s count ’em up …

First, we have Surflight Theatre, which was in dire need of operating capital and reserves for decades. The Beach Haven theater was always in deep financial need due to atrocious management and the lack of understanding that the public just does not have an interest in supporting Surflight with ticket sales.

A group made up of people, some of whom were involved with the old Surflight, now wants the borough of Beach Haven and Long Beach Township to use taxpayer funds to buy Surflight out of bankruptcy and lease it in a “sweetheart” deal to this new group. (See “Surflight Theatre Future Has Hope If Quick Action.”)

Perhaps “quick action” is exactly what is not needed here. The old Surflight couldn’t make it due to its income not being sufficient to cover operating expenses that were themselves too high to be supported by a small summer stock theater using Broadway and near-Broadway talent and whose management and board made many serious management mistakes coupled with reduced interest from the public for buying tickets.

The old Surflight was a tax-exempt entity, which means local taxpayers were already subsidizing the financial operation of the failed entity. Yet the article contains no detailed information about how the new management group plans to run Surflight so a far different financial and operational outcome could be expected.

Another major missing point is if and how the management group would run a fundraiser that would gain donations from people actually interested in contributing to Surflight, perhaps on a scaled-back version. Oh, that’s right, they don’t need to work hard to raise funds since they have a “better” plan.

They don’t need to raise money because the management group wants two municipalities to increase the risks to their respective taxpayers by assuming the ownership position of Surflight, which went bust once. Just who will get stuck here if the management group and board drive the new arrangement into bankruptcy or heavy financial need?

As a property owner and taxpayer in one of the target municipalities, as a person with a very limited interest in Surflight as a community theater, and as a person with zero interest in an ownership position in Surflight, it’s my opinion that the elected officials of the two municipalities targeted should have their heads examined if they put 1 cent of their constituents’ funds into this deal.

Surflight repeatedly failed for many reasons. The last two shows I attended, both enjoyable Tommy Emmanuel concerts, could have had the stage swept before the start of each of the shows. There was loose trash and dust. If the management had any pride at all, someone could have taken a broom and cleaned the place. But the main reason for failure was the lack of interest from the public in attending Surflight’s events.

Property taxes on LBI are already far too high, mostly due to the Southern Regional School District assessing LBI homeowners instead of charging tuition for student attendance. Frankly, for what LBI owners pay to that district, LBI taxpayers could buy Lawrenceville Academy and send LBI students to Lawrenceville Academy for less. The kids would likely get a better education, too.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Oct. 2 edition, a front-page article is part of an ongoing story involving not a community theater but the Philadelphia Orchestra, a cultural institution known around the world. The orchestra is having some of the same problems we’ve seen with Surflight over the years.

Contract negotiations with the orchestra’s players highlight the problems. The difference between the initial request from the players and what was offered by the orchestra was $90,000. You would think a major organization like the Philadelphia Orchestra would be able to work that out. In fact, at a recent scheduled event, the orchestra members refused to go on stage and many, instead, went out on the sidewalk outside the concert hall and played an impromptu recital for people passing by.

Over the last five years, the Inquirer has published very thorough analyses about why some cultural attractions are having trouble. Their findings were very astute. Reason No. 1 was that the times and interests of people have changed. If you want to listen to music, you can use one of the many devices available to play the music you want sourced from the Internet, CDs or even vinyl records. You don’t need to pay high ticket prices, pay for bridge tolls and parking or get all dressed up to listen to your own sources.

The Inquirer also noted that major donors had gotten up in age, their families had scattered to the four corners of the world, and younger generations had no interest in supporting cultural venues in their old hometown that they never went to anyway.

If the Surflight’s new management group can’t create a proper business plan, conduct a thorough fundraising campaign and do all of the other things necessary for success, there is no reason for the public to put their money at risk.

The Westmont Theatre in Camden County went through a similar problem and closed its doors on Sept. 8, 1998. Private parties were unable to collect sufficient funds to reopen. Local and regional governments refused to foot the bill. Two developers are currently in process of turning the theater into a Planet Fitness gym, apparently something people do have an interest in.

Then we have the letter to the editor from K. Miller of North Beach Haven, who wants to be compensated for his/her inconvenience due to the beach replenishment contractor using his/her street as a staging area for supplies and equipment. The contractor used the beach ends of other streets and none of the owners on those streets have requested compensation.

The beach needed a very large construction project, and secure staging areas were required. Everyone on or close to the beach needed to show patience and most did.

In the same edition, the example of the couple that wanted horses at their beach wedding shows how people who have a goal can get there if they persevere. These people started a year before their wedding date, kept aware of the changing construction schedules for the work on the beach and succeeded. Good for them.

Lastly, we have the Obama administration declaring enormous areas of the oceans preservation zones. A story about this relates how the 4,193-square-mile Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument has become such a zone, established by an executive order, removing access for recreational and commercial fishing.

Apparently the fact that American fishing fleets have been diligent in holding to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s rules and regulations was not taken into account, nor the fact that the vast majority of species that are fished off the U.S. are in pretty good shape.

All of this preservation takes federal money, paid in repeatedly over time, yet there is zero economic value available in return. Further, recreational and commercial fisheries have the risk that the federal government will expand the size of this preservation area as it did when it added a gigantic area of the Pacific Ocean to the “monument” northwest of Hawaii.

We need to knock off expecting to get “government money” for projects that have not been able to stand on their own.

J. Lindsay Fuller lives in Beach Haven.

 

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.