City-owned theatre operates without property tax dollars
By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
If volunteers make small communities what they are, one sure example of that is the Imperial Theatre operation.
The theatre, which just had a three-night sellout for last weekend’s showing of “Frozen,” is highly dependent on volunteers who take tickets, sell concessions and clean up after each show.
While the theatre has used city sales tax funds over the years for some purchases and improvements, including the recent upgrade to a digital projection system, there are no property tax dollars assessed city residents for its operation, said City Clerk/Administrator Jo Leyland.
The theatre averages a small profit almost every year, Leyland said, of a couple thousand dollars.
And, because of the volunteers, admissions and concession sales bring in most of the money that keeps the theatre in business.
It would be impossible to maintain that balance sheet without the help of volunteers in the operation, according to those who work with it on a weekly basis.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” said Tami Ekart, who works at the city office and schedules the volunteers for each weekend shows are on the screen.
Ekart said she has the help of too many volunteers to count, some of which work one night or weekend once in awhile, and others who are regulars.
Many organizations, businesses and families provide help as a regular service projects in the community.
When a movie night nears with no volunteers scheduled, Ekart has a “go-to list” of very dependable people who will come work on short notice.
At the top of that list is the crew of Tracy Pribbeno, Leslie Chavez and her children, Ethan and Madee, and another regular, Sophie Spady.
They often volunteer Sundays, and sometimes do several Sundays a month, Ekart noted. But when she’s getting nervous on filling other nights on a particular weekend, that’s one of her “go-to” groups.
“They’re just a group of super, super volunteers,” Ekart said.
Another is St. Patrick Catholic Church which, for years, has taken a full month in the summer, filling all nights on all theatre weekends that month.
“Unlike anyone else, they are unique because they do a full month every year. No one else does that,” she said.
Other regular, dependable volunteers Ekart wanted to highlight include:
Chase Co. 4-H Clubs—Youth 4-H members and sponsors often take several weekends during February’s 4-H Month.
FCCLA—The Chase County Schools organization provides volunteers one or two nights just about every month.
Imperial Country Ford—Employees there volunteer one full weekend every year.
Norma Dannatt—She takes a night once every month, recruiting co-workers, people at church or friends to fill that night of volunteers.
While many already work at the theatre as part of a school organization, one group from which Ekart believes she’ll start seeing even more volunteer hours coming are high school students.
Last year, the CCS board of education approved the addition of a community service hour requirement for graduation.
“Working at the theatre is a great way to get those hours in,”
Students cannot work alone at the theatre, however. At least one adult will need to be with them, Ekart said.
“I just want to thank all of our volunteers,” Ekart said.
The theatre also operates with an appointed board of five people and one youth member, who handle management decisions and building upkeep under direct supervision of the city council.
The only paid employees are projectionists Chuck Bartholomew, Tyrell Bartholomew and Bryan Bischoff. Chuck works the majority of the nights during the year.
Ekart said Chuck Bartholomew is invaluable at the theatre because of his knowledge of electronics and technology.
One example is the break-down of a circuit board recently. Bartholomew installed it himself, saving the theatre budget a lot of money and time, Ekart said.
“He does a lot for the theatre, especially when it comes to electronics,” she said.
National advertising is
new revenue source
People attending the theatre the past few months may have noticed something new in the national advertising on the screen prior to the upcoming show previews and the night’s featured film.
Leyland said the theatre board chose to begin running the ads as an additional revenue source.
The most recent check for running ads from such companies as Kia, Toyota, Google, Verizon and more over a three-month period was $352.
The theatre is also very dependent on the strong support from local businesses, who have aired their business advertisements on the Imperial Theatre screen for years.
At this time, 33 businesses pay $150 per year for the theatre screen advertising. Each year, the businesses are contacted to see if they want to continue the ads. Updates to their ads are able to be made throughout the year.
In those annual contacts by the city, the advertisers are also asked to consider providing volunteers a night or two during the year.
City staff say the importance of theatre volunteers can’t be understated.