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July 24, 2013

City looks to cut auditorium fees

HAVERHILL — The city hopes to trim by half the $5,500 it was expected to cost a local theater group to use the City Hall auditorium for five shows this fall.

Spotlight Playhouse, a Haverhill-based nonprofit community theater company that rehearses and performs exclusively in the city, wants to rent the Nicholas J. Ross Auditorium for its October production of “Lend Me a Tenor.”

But the troupe cannot afford the estimated $5,500 in city fees and other charges for five shows that would take place on two consecutive weekends.

The fees include $1,280 to rent the auditorium, $2,325 for a custodian, and at least $1,845 for separate police and firefighter details, according to a breakdown of the cost provided by Scott Helmers, president of the theater company.

The theater company has asked the mayor and City Council to waive or reduce the fees. Councilors were receptive to the request when it came before them two weeks ago and again last night.

David Van Dam, Mayor James Fiorentini’s aide, told councilors last night that he is working with the group to reduce the fees, but that he needs at least one more week to finalize the arrangements.

Van Dam said the state Fire Marshall’s Office offers a free online course in which anyone can get certified as a “house manager” to perform the duties of a fire detail, subject to approval by local public safety officials. The city’s fire and police chiefs have indicated they would accept such a person in place of a firefighter for the theater group’s shows, Van Dam said.

Van Dam said the ordinance controlling the auditorium allows the city to waive $250 in general rental fees, but no more. The biggest expense is for custodians, because they would be working the weekend shows at overtime pay rates, Van Dam said. Any time custodians are used during their regular City Hall hours, there would be no charge to the private group, Van Dam said.

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