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Answer not what theater needed

Supporters of a proposed downtown community theater needed a definite yes or a definite no from city commissioners.

On Tuesday, they got a definite maybe.

That might definitely end dreams of building a theater along Fifth Street. Or it might not.

Facing a self-imposed deadline of midnight, supporters of the project at the site of the old Crescent Theatre building asked Dade City commissioners for $150,000 to help match a $500,000 state grant.

But their request was put on hold, indefinitely.

Mayor Scott Black and commissioners said they applauded the work volunteers have done to raise money for the project over the past four years but demands on the upcoming city budget trump a last-minute request for a large contribution.

"It's a tough time to bring this up," Commissioner Lowell Harris said.

Commissioners are faced with salary demands from firefighters and police officers and the need to refurbish or expand City Hall.

Black said the requested donation, $50,000 a year for three years, would require staff study. Perhaps, he said, the city could help theater supporters find other grants, rather than tapping the city budget or its $2-million reserve fund.

Bill Aycrigg of Community Aging and Retirement Services has worked with the Heritage Arts Foundation and others to build the theater. Boosters, including CARES, worked with the state to raise money to convert the theatre into a senior center. The community theater was supposed to be erected next to that center.

Aycrigg said a conference call today involving theater leaders will determine the fate of the fund drive. Project directors on Monday considered giving donors a few choices: extend the project one more year; return the donated money; give the money to CARES; or give the money to Heritage Arts.

Dade City has donated $15,000. But Barbara Friedman of Heritage Arts said the reluctance to give more disappointed her.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners set the tentative property tax rate at $7.40 per $1,000 of taxable property value. That's the same rate as this past fiscal year, but it's considered an 8.9 percent tax increase based on the roll-back rate, a rate that would generate the same amount of property tax revenue as the current year, taking into account higher property values.

The roll-back rate stands at $6.80 per $1,000 of taxable value. Black said the rate set Tuesday is just a tentative rate that can be adjusted downward at budget hearings in September. He urged city staff to trim the budget so commissioners can consider reducing the rate to the roll-back rate.