Council approves moving forward with Constantine deal

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Pawhuska City Council on April 27 approved moving in the direction of a multiyear arrangement to provide financial support to the Constantine Theater, but to gradually reduce that support as the theater becomes more financially viable.

The Constantine Theater is a downtown Pawhuska landmark building, located just east of City Hall on Main Street. The City Council has been meeting at the Community Center, at the intersection of Main Street and Lynn Avenue out of concern about the potential transmission of COVID-19.

The council voted unanimously to provide the theater with $1,500 per month during the first year of the arrangement, not including insurance costs, which city government will also cover. The city owns the building. The monthly support amount is to be paid out of municipal Economic Development funds.

There was some difference of opinion among councilors about whether the theater board should be responsible for providing an audit during the first year of the arrangement, but the council settled upon the understanding that an audit will be legally necessary if the theater’s income exceeds a $50,000 threshold.

“It just takes some time to build up revenue, but I feel like we’re moving in a good direction,” Beth Reed said on behalf of the theater board. She explained that the intent of the theater board is to become financially self-sufficient.

At-Large Councilor Steve Tolson said he had met with Interim City Manager Tonya Bright and developed a proposal for a three-year plan of gradually decreasing city government support for the Constantine. The monthly support amount would decrease to $1,000 per month in the second year and $500 per month in the third year. The money would not be provided with specific expense earmarks, and Tolson said part of his intention was to limit city government’s financial exposure in regard to the theater.

For now, the first year of the proposed arrangement is approved, with the council’s apparent intent being to allow the Constantine board to submit a financial report rather than a full audit report in the first year, unless the theater’s income triggers a legal requirement for an audit.

The council also voted unanimously April 27 to approve, with some minor changes, a formal sales tax agreement that will govern the legal relationship between city government and the Pawhuska Hospital in regard to the use of funds generated by a 1-cent increase in the municipal sales tax for 20 years that voters approved in January 2021 by a vote of 253-to-119.

The council then dissected and debated, with occasional audience questions and suggestions, the details of a lengthy update to regulations regarding activities at Bluestem Lake and Lake Pawhuska, and the rights and responsibilities of persons leasing city-owned lots at Bluestem Lake. This discussion followed up on previous work on the proposed regulatory update by senior city staff members.

Approval of the new lake activity regulations is necessary before new lake lot contracts are distributed to leaseholders. The council reached a consensus position April 27 that City Attorney John Heskett would make needed changes in the most-recent draft of the regulations; that Bright would make sure the updated version is placed online for public viewing and comment; and that the council will discuss the regulations again, with a view toward approving them, in a special meeting on May 11.