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Local News

Joliet council members resist Rialto $500,000 request

Mayor calls for 'a wholesale change'

JOLIET – The Joliet City Council met Wednesday to discuss the future of the Rialto Square Theatre, and it doesn't look good.

There was little support to provide the $500,000 that Rialto officials say they need to pay next year's bills.

Some members said they were willing to weigh the impact of the Rialto closing.

"It's closed already. It really is," Councilwoman Brooke Hernandez Brewer said.

The theater is still open and country star Kacey Musgraves performs Thursday night in what is expected to be a nearly sold-out theater.

But the Rialto has been operating on a limited calendar during a year-long financial crisis that led to a management upheaval and the accumulation of $570,000 in unpaid bills as of this week.

The bill backlog, along with the perilous state of the city's annual subsidy to the Rialto, also could lead to the departure of VenuWorks, the company hired in September to manage the theater. VenuWorks executives have said they will not stay in January without the city support and the old bills being cleared away.

Mayor Bob O'Dekirk and several council members said they could not support the $500,000 contribution to the Rialto.

"If we're going to do anything, I think we have to look forward to making a wholesale change," O'Dekirk said.

He suggested asking for the resignations of the four city-appointed Rialto board members. The board also consists of three members appointed by the governor.

The special council meeting was held to consider an intergovernmental agreement proposed by the Rialto to secure the $500,000, but council members never voted on it.

Instead, the council decided to do three things:

• Vote next week on a resolution to seek a change in the state law that created the Rialto governing authority so that control would be transferred to the city, a proposal that was introduced last week;

• Vote next week on a resolution urging the Rialto board to pursue a referendum to seek taxpayer support for a bond issue to raise money for the theater;

• Pay the Rialto's unpaid auditor's bill of $20,400 so that the theater's annual audit can be completed.

Audit problem

The unpaid auditor's bill aggravated some council members as they learned that it could create problems for the city's own audit.

Finance Director James Ghedotte said the Rialto is considered a "component unit" of city government for accounting purposes, and an incomplete theater audit would reflect on the city's own financial records.

Ghedotte said he learned this week that the Rialto audit has not been completed because of the unpaid bill.

"Where does it end?" Councilwoman Jan Quillman said, expressing frustration with the Rialto's financial problems.

The payment for the audit will come out of the $22,000 the city still has left from the $600,000 it budgeted for the Rialto this year.

A Rialto tax?

The city council now wants the Rialto to pursue a countywide tax referendum to approve bonds to pay off its bills.

The prospect was raised after City Attorney Marty Shanahan reported that the state legislation that created the Rialto governing authority does allow it to issue bonds with voter approval.

The suggestion stirred Steve Randich, vice president of the foundation board that raises funds for the Rialto, who told the council that the Rialto has no taxing authority to pay off bonds.

"I think we need to get our facts straight before we say things like maybe the board can issue bonds and do other things that are not legally possible," Randich said.

Shanahan acknowledged that he did not know if the Rialto could levy a tax with voter approval, but he said the possibility could not be ruled out without deeper examination into the state laws granting bonding authority.

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