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Facing deficit, Carrollwood Cultural Center looks at cutting budget and staff

CARROLLWOOD — The Carrollwood Cultural Center is looking at cutting its budget and staff to close a deficit that threatens the facility's future, its leaders say.

"What we're trying to do is save the organization and stop the bleeding to try to help the patient live to another day," said John Miley, a member of the board of the Friends of the Carrollwood Cultural Center, the nonprofit group that manages the center in partnership with Hillsborough County.

"If we don't take immediate action," Miley said, "the risk is the doors will be closed, and everything else will be moot."

In the near future, perhaps even next week, executive director Paul Berg is expected to outline a deficit-reduction plan to the Friends' board.

Berg already has briefed the board's finance committee on his plan, which would cut an estimated $127,000 from the center's budget for the remainder of 2010. Most of the savings, about $103,000, would be realized by eliminating four positions from the center's 11-member staff.

One position, the job of business manager, already has been eliminated. A second job would be eliminated in June, a third in July and the fourth in August. Berg declined this week to identify which other jobs he's thinking of cutting.

He also said that if the center can find other savings or if it can increase revenues by bringing in more people, that could negate the need to eliminate any more staff. But, he conceded, the other cost reductions or increased revenue would have to be substantial to save jobs.

The Friends' board had been scheduled to discuss an audit of the center and Berg's plan Tuesday night, but board members ended the meeting after only five minutes. An overflow crowd of 50 or more had crammed into the board's meeting room following days of rumors about the center's finances, future and the purpose of the meeting, including whether it was called to fire Berg.

Afterward, Miley and board president Jim Carver said that was not the reason for the meeting. Berg's performance is satisfactory, Carver said. Berg said he had heard the rumors about whether he would be dismissed, had asked one or more board members about them and had been told the same thing.

Going into the meeting, however, emotions ran high among the dozens of cultural center members who packed the small room and circulated a petition supporting Berg.

As the meeting began, a couple of people in the audience repeatedly interrupted and challenged Carver about why the board didn't hold the meeting in a bigger room and whether the board was open to hearing from those whose membership dues and volunteer service support the center. Carver said the meeting would be recessed and rescheduled if there wasn't enough order to conduct it. Moments later, the meeting's abrupt adjournment brought more protests.

"Do you realize the damage you've done to the image of the (Friends of the Carrollwood Cultural Center)?" asked center member Ron Manning of Odessa. "Big mistake."

After the meeting, Carver said the board would reschedule a public meeting to hear concerns from residents, center members, volunteers and others. He said he wished the board had been able to proceed with the meeting as planned.

"It's very disappointing for me personally," Carver said. "We're losing time on a major problem."

Hillsborough County spent $8 million buying what was once St. Mark's Episcopal Church and the former Church of Christ at Carrollwood and renovating both buildings to create the cultural center and its annex. The center opened in the spring of 2008 and receives a county subsidy of $380,000 a year. The county also picks up the cost of electricity, water and major maintenance to the buildings.

The county subsidy, however, does not even cover the center's payroll — the facility's single biggest category of expenses. Last year, personnel costs totaled more than $412,500. The center has seven full-time and four part-time employees.

In addition to the county subsidy, the center also earns revenue by offering a wide range of classes in painting, drawing, ceramics, photography, cooking, foreign languages, music, crafts, computer skills, yoga, dance, personal finance and etiquette for children. It offers frequent concerts and plays, and has community band, choral and dramatic programs. Its membership consists of about 600 individuals or families. Individuals pay $50 a year; families $95 a year.

Revenues, however, have not covered expenses. In 2009, revenues, including the county subsidy, were $725,315. That was about $43,000 less than the center's expenses for the year.

Through Monday, expenses for 2010 have outpaced revenues by more than $21,200.

Miley said he is worried about the rate at which the center has been using reserves to cover its operating deficit. That practice, he said, cannot be sustained much longer. Berg said the center's leadership must scrutinize every line in the budget.

"We're facing our first major challenge as an organization," Berg said. "How we deal with it is going to tell us a lot about that organization."

Reach Richard Danielson at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Facing deficit, Carrollwood Cultural Center looks at cutting budget and staff 05/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 2:49pm]

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