Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney speaks during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney speaks during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna mayor vetoes financial support for Triumvirate production

The council voted to use up to $25,000 to support an outdoor community theater production

In a rare move, the mayor of Soldotna has vetoed city financial support for a community theater production after council members approved the motion. As first reported by KSRM, Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney vetoed the use of up to $25,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds for a community performance by Triumvirate Theatre.

In a statement accompanying the veto, which the Clarion obtained via records request, Whitney cited the process through which the funds were approved as the reason for his veto. That letter is dated the day after the council approved the resolution.

“I cannot support the action taken last night on this Resolution, not because the event is not a worthy project, but because of the process in which the funding is being appropriated,” Whitney wrote in a required explanation for the veto. “For this reason, I am vetoing Resolution 2022-010.”

A split Soldotna City Council voted during the body’s March 23 meeting to use up to $25,000 of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to support an outdoor community theater production by Triumvirate Theatre this summer. Under the resolution, the city’s contribution would have been offset by any donations received from patrons this summer.

Those who supported the approval of funds highlighted the success of last year’s production and said it would bring the community together, while those opposed voiced concerns about the amount of money and how it was made available. Soldotna Vice Mayor Lisa Parker, who cast the fourth “yes” vote, said she would support the production “this time” but that she had concerns about other groups using Soldotna as a “cash cow.”

In his written explanation of the veto, Whitney reiterated many of the concerns he voiced during the city council’s March 23 meeting. He criticized the process through which the funds were appropriated and proposed the city hold a work session to discuss how American Rescue Plan Act money will be spent.

In all, the City of Soldotna received about $1.14 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, none of which have been spent yet, Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen told city council members. Triumvirate staged last year’s summer performance, “The Little Mermaid,” courtesy of a grant opportunity made available by the city using federal CARES Act funds.

“Every group, organization and project were given an equal opportunity to apply for those funds knowing there was a process in place to evaluate the application,” Whitney wrote of CARES funds. “ … In this case ARPA funds are being appropriated to fund an event without any funds being set aside for this type of grant, no notice of funding availability(,) no application process, no guidelines on how awards will be made and no opportunity for any other group or organization to apply.”

Soldotna municipal code says that mayoral vetoes must be exercised before the body’s next regular meeting and must be accompanied by a written explanation of the reason for the veto. Mayoral vetoes, city code says, can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of council members within 21 days of the veto being exercised, or at the following meeting, whichever comes last.

It is unusual for legislation passed by council members to be vetoed. According to a master list of Soldotna ordinances, only five have been vetoed since 1962, when the city’s first ordinance was enacted. The resolution vetoed by Whitney marks the first resolution vetoed since 1998 and only the third since 1960.

Triumvirate Executive Director Joe Rizzo said Tuesday that he will continue to pursue other grant opportunities and said he thinks the theater has “a good chance” of raising the necessary funds. Still, Rizzo said, nothing is guaranteed.

“We just can’t afford to take a $35,000 chance, especially if we’re going to offer it for free to the public,” Rizzo said.

Triumvirate estimates it will cost about $67,000 to put on “Tarzan” this summer. That figure includes just over $31,600 in in-kind donations, according to a budget prepared for the Soldotna City Council by Rizzo. The largest expense would be staff. The budget estimates a $10,000 need for a full-time director, $5,000 for a part-time producer and support staff, $3,000 for an orchestra director and $1,500 for a choreographer.

In all, the theater needs to secure about $35,000 to make the production happen, Rizzo said. The third week in May, close to the last day of school, is kind of the make-or-break deadline, he added.

An additional budgeted expense is a $1,500 royalty payment, which refers to money paid for the rights to perform the show. Whether or not tickets are sold, however, greatly impacts how much that royalty payment will cost. Rizzo said Tuesday that Triumvirate paid about $1,500 to put on “The Little Mermaid” last summer. If they’d charged for tickets to the performance, Rizzo said they would have paid between $10,000 and $15,000 in royalties.

“There’s really no money in it for us,” Rizzo said Tuesday.

The Soldotna City Council’s full meeting can be viewed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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