Recommendations to resolve Ships Company Theatre, Town of Parrsboro tax dispute

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All of this over $5,000?

Do the math, and thats all were talking about when it comes to this dispute between Ships Company Theatre and the Town of Parrsboro over the theatre companys tax bill. The theatre wants tax-free status because of its cultural value. The town bills it $8,000 per year in commercial tax, and offsets that partially with a $3,000 grant.

The theatre has pleaded for a better arrangement with the town since it opened its new facility in 2004, and the town has given a little ground. But the heat was really stoked up when Ships Company supporter Bruce Klinger began a letter-writing campaign to bring some attention to the matter.

But the relationship seems to be getting worse instead of better. In fact, Mayor Doug Robinson declined an invitation to attend the companys gala opening performance of its new play, Share, last Friday.

Ive watched this situation develop and have listened to both sides of the argument with great interest. So I have a few recommendations for both the theatre and the town on how to resolve this as quickly and painlessly as possible.

For the town:

- Look at other municipalities in the region with not-for-profit theatres and see how they manage to get by without collecting tax revenue from them. Sure, some of these places, like Halifax and Wolfville, have much larger tax bases and cannot be compared with Parrsboro. But others are smaller. What about Guysborough? Or Glace Bay?

- Loosen the purse strings a bit. As auditor George Jorgensen recently reported, the town is in great financial shape, with half a million dollars in reserves. Eight thousand dollars is not going to break this town. And dont use the argument about how that $8,000 would have to be picked up elsewhere, namely the taxpayers. The truth is that the Ships Company property was derelict and undeveloped prior to the theatre being there, and produced no tax revenue for the town. So the only loss to the town would be whatever taxes the theatre paid for the building it formerly operated out of on Main Street, surely a manageable loss.

- See the big picture, and show some trust towards those running the company. Take Ships Company general manager Chuck Homewood at face value when he says this tax burden threatens the long-term future of the theatre. Losing the Ships Company altogether would be a far greater blow than losing $8,000 a year in tax revenue.

For the theatre:

- Seek to understand the towns position, not shame it into giving you your way. When Homewood spoke before town council in March he asked for a new beginning to the relationship, one that focused on the wellness of the community. The mayor said in a previous interview that if the theatre could show him that the majority of taxpayers in Parrsboro support giving the theatre tax-free status, then that would make a compelling argument for their case. The theatre should pursue that further, and the petition they are now working on is a step in the right direction.

- Fight your own battles. Dont let someone from Halifax do it for you. While Ships Company supporter Bruce Klinger has raised some good points in his recent letter-writing campaign, he has also caused unnecessary damage. Questioning the salaries of town staff and criticizing the towns handling of the Headz Gamez affair seems mean-spirited and only draws attention away from the crux of the issue. If there is a third party to be involved here, it should be as a mediator, not an agitator.

- Remember this town is too small to make enemies. Doug and Shirley Robinson have been big supporters and contributors to the theatre over the years, and the fact that they didnt feel comfortable coming to gala night over this is pretty sad. Gleneida Canning was one of the companys busiest volunteers for many years. These relationships need to be repaired; otherwise those wounds will fester for years to come.

Both sides need to get back to the bargaining table here before more damage is done.

Were only talking about a few dollars and cents here.

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