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Orem CARE tax allocations could leave Hale Centre Theatre Orem without funds

By Genelle Pugmire - | May 13, 2022

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

Faythe Harwood, of Orem, swims in the lap pool Friday, March 24, 2017, at the Orem Fitness Center.

For nearly two decades, residents of Orem have voted to help fund arts and recreation for the city through the Orem CARE tax. The first vote was in 2005.

Residents re-upped the tax in 2013 and agreed to continue the tax, with arts and recreation sharing the allotment 50-50.

In the arts category there are three levels of grants — major grants that may receive $10,000 or more, mid-range grants up to $9,999 and mini grants up to $4,999. Major grants must provide information on tickets sales and other items the other two categories do not, but all must be 501(c)3 foundations.

During Tuesday’s city council work session, the major grants received notification of their allotments that would be voted on later by the council. The three major organizations are the SCERA Center for the Arts, Utah Metropolitan Ballet and the Hale Centre Theatre Orem.

Hale Centre asked for the most they could request, about $1.27 million. SCERA asked for $759,936 and the Metropolitan Ballet asked for $76,492.

Courtesy photo

Orem CARE tax logo

The SCERA was allocated its full request. The ballet was allocated $25,000 and the Hale Centre Theatre was allocated $0.

Hale recently announced that dōTERRA had offered them land and $5 million to move to its Pleasant Grove campus and build their new theater there, rather than in Orem.

Tuesday, those theater leaders were shocked to learn they had been, seemingly, been shut out of funding even though the Hale would be functioning in Orem until late 2024.

“We are truly grateful to the City of Orem for supporting the arts through CARE tax funds. Those dollars have made it possible for the theater to elevate production values across the board, including paying artists a modest wage, and improving the theater’s Arts Educational Programming to youth and adults in our community,” said Cody Swenson, Hale executive director.

“We are saddened that the Orem City Council has proposed to withdraw all CARE Tax funding to Hale Center Theater Orem. For 32 years, our nonprofit organization has called Orem home, and we will continue to operate in Orem for another two years, bringing the same economic impact that we have in years past,” he added. Swenson also said that the funding, if withheld,  could lead to layoffs, wage decreases, and ticket price increases.

A final decision on the CARE tax allocations has not been decided, according to Steven Downs, deputy city manager.

“A proposal was presented by those of us who are heavily involved in the CARE allocation process to the rest of the City Council. The City Council now has an opportunity to review that proposal and offer any feedback. The final decision rests with the entire City Council and is to be done in a future City Council meeting.”

Hale’s zero-dollar allocation also came as a surprise to some members of the council — including Councilwoman Debby Lauret, the council’s liaison to the arts.

“The Hale Centre organization has been a wonderful asset in our community for our three decades providing outstanding theatrical performances and education offerings for kids, teens, and adults. I believe we should continue to provide at least partial funding until 2024 when they move to Pleasant Grove,” Lauret said.

Greg Cook, dōTERRA founding executive and chairman of the board, was also surprised, saying that he didn’t see that decision coming at all.

“I remain hopeful that Orem City will continue to support an institution that has been a foundational part of Orem for 32 years,” Cook said. “The proposals to defund the theater by some members of the Orem City Council do not reflect the broad feeling of appreciation for the talents and sacrifices that go into creating such an enriching experience.”

Cook, though, stands behind the centre’s mission to provide artistic experiences in Utah Valley.

“I want to assuage any concerns, however, of the hardworking Hale organization and its amazing actors and crew, as well as of patrons of the theater who benefit from lower-priced tickets, made possible by CARE tax funds, to know that your jobs are safe and prices will remain affordable,” he said.

While the council still has its final vote on the matter at the meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 24, there are other changes on CARE tax allocation.

It has been suggested, and approved by some, that the CARE tax be split in thirds with one third going to the arts, another third to recreation and another third to just parks.

That idea appears to have the approval of the council. With a new parks division added this year, the summation by some is that Hale’s funds could be transferred to parks.

Each year, the City Council and the CARE Commission are tasked with directing the investment of the CARE tax dollars within the Orem community.

“Without fail, every year there are more worthy projects and requests than there are available funds. As such, the City’s desire is to invest these funds in a balanced way between parks, arts, and recreation that will not only benefit the most Orem families now, but for many years into the future,” Downs said.

Several projects and upgrades are expected at the parks including Wi-Fi upgrades, playgrounds and other facility improvements.

“We wish Hale Centre Theatre the best as they transition to their future home in Pleasant Grove,” said Brenn Bybee, assistant city manager and manager of the CARE tax program. “The City of Orem awarded about $5.3 million in CARE tax funds specifically to Hale Centre Theatre of Orem since our voters approved this tax in 2005.”

Bybee called the joint history a “wonderful partnership” and doesn’t fault the organization for exploring options and, ultimately, making a deal to move north. “The opportunity in Pleasant Grove provides an amazing opportunity for the Hale Center Theater and its patrons for many years to come,” Bybee added.

The original 2005 CARE tax vote was initiated to help build the arts. At first glance, it was set to improve and upgrade the SCERA Center for the Arts. A survey was taken to see what would need to be done to the lobby, theaters and grounds and the city council, at the time, determined it was too much money.

Then, a Center for Story was proposed, with a $1 million gift from Karen and Alan Ashton. After years of seeking additional funding and resources, along with the decision to move the annual Storytelling Festival to Thanksgiving Point, the Center for Story faded and eventually became what is now Library Hall.


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