Study: South Orange Should Increase SOPAC Funding

Assemblywoman Nila Jasey urges the South Orange Village Board of Trustees to continue funding for the Community Coalition on Race. (Photo: Amy Kiste Nyberg)

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The village should increase its funding to SOPAC and take back ownership of the building, a consultant told the South Orange Village Board of Trustees at its meeting Monday night.

Len Harac, owner of Harac Consulting of Clifton, presented the results of a study, paid for by the village, on the operation and finances of the South Orange Performing Arts Center. “To say they were underperforming in any way would be inaccurate,” he said.

The fatal flaw in the original plan for SOPAC, according to Harac, was burdening the nonprofit group with approximately $15 million in debt. “The building has got to go,” he said, adding that SOPAC would have an easier time getting grant money if it rented space in a village-owned arts center.

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In addition, Harac estimated SOPAC needs $576,000 in support from the village. South Orange previously has budgeted $400,000 for SOPAC.

South Orange benefits from having SOPAC in a number of ways, Harac said. It brings in $2 million in “spin-off” revenue for other businesses, it increases real estate values, it contributes culturally and educationally to the community, and it partners with the village in programming.

Robert Chandross, long a critic of SOPAC, criticized the study during the public comment portion of the meeting. “You wasted your money,” he told the board, saying that the study was biased and failed to undertake any statistical analysis. He noted that if the village were to take back the building, it “doesn’t mean you have to continue to operate it as an arts center.”

Also speaking during the public comment period were several supporters of the Community Coalition on Race, who urged the village to continue providing funding for the coalition’s work. Meredith Sue Willis, a coalition trustee, said the group cultivates “a culture of integration” and warned that if efforts were curtailed, it could result in “negative changes in South Orange.”

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey also spoke in support of the CCR. She said the group serves as a model for other communities and is poised to move to another level. “I encourage you to support their work in any way that you can,” she said.

Trustees argued about whether taxpayers should fund nonprofit organizations. Trustee Deborah Davis Ford insisted that the board treat all nonprofit organizations equally, saying that she would not support any budget that funded the nonprofit YouthNet but not the Community Coalition on Race. “It’s a perception of fairness,” she said. Trustee Janine Bauer agreed: “If we’re going to fully fund one, we should fully fund both.”

However, Trustee Mark Rosner said the board should evaluate what services the organizations deliver. “Each thing should stand on its own,” he said.

Village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. said the 2012 budget should be ready for presentation at the next meeting, and trustees indicated they would continue the funding discussion at that meeting.

In other action, the Board of Trustees:

  • approved a contract with Giordano Co. for single-stream recycling collection for $9,444 a month. Single-stream recycling will go into effect July 1. Details of collection, such as whether toters will be required, have not yet been settled.
  • heard a presentation by RedFlex regarding the installation of red-light cameras. Police Chief James Chelel supports red-light cameras. “I see red-light cameras as a workforce multiplier,” he said. The village would have to apply to the state Department of Transportation to be included in the program. There would be no cost to the village.
  • unanimously approved an ordinance requiring bicycle storage and bicycle racks at apartment buildings.

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