The Highlands Performing Arts Center will have to factor some additional operating costs into its budget following the Highlands town board meeting on Thursday night.
During the meeting, the procedure of allowing the PAC to have use of no-cost utilities was brought up for discussion. Town finance director Rebecca Shuler noted that the practice had been in place since 2010 when the town entered into a contract with the PAC.
“In 2010, when the PAC moved into its current location, the town owned that building and property, so it didn’t make sense for the town to charge itself utilities,” Shuler said. “Since that time, the PAC has bought the property in 2018 and the building and now the original 10-year contract has expired.”
Shuler added that according to the NC School of Government it’s actually illegal for a town to give away utilities – even to a nonprofit organization.
Commissioner Marc Hehn asked what amount of money the PAC will be responsible for when it begins paying for its town electricity, water, sewer and garbage pickup.
Shuler estimated the total bills at $13,500 for the year, or a monthly average of $1,125. Hein asked if the town could appropriate that amount of money to the PAC with the understanding that it would be used to cover their utilities.
“Theoretically, I think you could as a board, but you don’t do that for any other nonprofits to my knowledge,” Shuler said. “The board eliminated the town’s grant funding process a few years ago.”
PAC board member Cindy Trevathan said she understood the board’s position in regards to not being allowed to continue the free utility services.
“If the town can’t legally do this, then you all can’t do it, and we understand that but we want to thank the board for taking this into consideration,” Trevathan said. “We are still pursuing our expansion project and we would like for the town to partner with us on that project in the future.”
Mayor Patrick Taylor noted that there are ongoing discussions regarding what occupancy tax funds can and can not be spent on in regards to promoting travel and tourism. He added that he is hopeful that travel and tourism money will be deemed an appropriate source of funding for arts programs like the PAC, Highlands Playhouse and The Bascom Center for Visual Arts.
“When you talk about bringing people to Highlands, our arts scene is one of the many reasons people do come here,” Taylor said. “We are fortunate for a town our size to have so many arts programs and organizations that promote arts and entertainment.”
A motion to begin charging the PAC for its town utilities passed by unanimous vote.