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Local News

Rialto officials, Joliet mayor contemplate new way to fund theater

Patrons mingle in the foyer of the Rialto Square Theatre before a performance Dec. 21, 2014. Rialto officials and the Joliet mayor are contemplating new ways to fund theater.
Patrons mingle in the foyer of the Rialto Square Theatre before a performance Dec. 21, 2014. Rialto officials and the Joliet mayor are contemplating new ways to fund theater.

JOLIET – Everyone seems to agree there has to be a better way to fund the Rialto Square Theatre.

But how?

One of the most controversial expenditure in Joliet’s proposed 2016 budget of $289 million has been the $600,000 spent in support of the Rialto Square Theatre.

Much of the controversy in recent budget meetings has centered around one councilman’s objections to the spending. But Rialto volunteers and advocates have joined the debate, urging the city not to cut funds they say the theater needs.

“I’m not sure what brought the Rialto people out,” said Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, indicating the $600,000 is secure at least for next year.

Councilman Larry Hug has been a lone voice opposing Rialto funding, and O’Dekirk noted the councilman has made the same case for several years. But the mayor, too, says something has to change.

“We have to find another way to do this because the day’s going to come when this money is going to run out,” O’Dekirk said.

Rialto officials, meanwhile, have taken heart from O’Dekirk’s apparent support for what is typically called a “dedicated funding source.”

That somewhat complicated phrase typically refers to government funds of some sort that are collected for a specific purpose – in this case, the Rialto.

“I have a couple of ideas that I shared with some of the board members,” O’Dekirk said.

He added, however, that he is not in favor of a Rialto tax.

The Rialto is one of several venues in Illinois overseen by civic center authorities. In the Rialto’s case, it’s the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority.

Rialto General Manager Randy Green said other civic center authorities in Illinois are allotted specific portions of hotel/motel taxes, liquor taxes or food and beverage taxes.

In Joliet, he said, the Rialto in past years was allocated a portion of the city’s hotel/motel tax. Later, Joliet made Rialto contributions out of casino tax dollars. That ended when the recession came. Instead, Rialto funding now comes out of the city’s general fund and becomes a part of the budget debate each year.

Having a dedicated funding source would allow the Rialto to make long-term plans, Green said.

“It gives us the ability to predict for an extended period of time the revenues we should be expecting,” he said. “It does diminish the uncertainties.”

Both Green and Dan Vera, chairman of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, said they were glad to hear O’Dekirk’s interest in a dedicated funding source. They plan to take him up on it in the new year.

“I was obviously pleased to hear the mayor has some ideas and thoughts, and wants to begin discussions,” Vera said.

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