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  • Writer's pictureJack Ward

Town Hall fees cut for community groups

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.

A REDUCTION in hire costs of the Ararat Town Hall may not be enough to entice Ararat’s musical comedy society back to town.

PHOTO: Ararat Dance Centre’s Milla Harris performed on the Ararat Town Hall stage in April when the Ararat Eisteddfod made use of the local asset. (Jack Ward/Ararat Advocate)

Council ‘significantly reduced fees’ for community use of local facilities, including the Town Hall and Alexandra Oval Community Centre in its 2021-22 budget, in recognition that the community assets belong to residents.

Ararat Rural City Council CEO, Dr Tim Harrison, said Council wanted to price the facilities in a range where it is more available to local groups rather than having them think twice about the financial burden.

“They've been pretty substantial changes, around the 30 to 40 per cent mark in some cases… we don't want people to be hindered by price,” he said.

“We often have conversations with groups about the cost of engagement with Town Hall and I've got to be honest, it has been prohibitive for those groups in the past.”

Ararat Musical Comedy Society returned to the Ararat Town Hall after renovations to perform its successful season of Les Misérables in 2019 but made the decision to return to Stawell this year.

Society president, Suellen Blackie, said cost savings were a driving force for the decision because of the Stawell Entertainment Centre’s reduced fees for community groups.

“From musical comedy's viewpoint, there's a lot of positives in Stawell and not a lot in Ararat,” she said.

Stawell’s allure was bolstered by its central location to cast and crew who were located across the Grampians, and the ability for an increase in audience numbers thanks to Stawell’s seating capacity.

Ms Blackie said analysis of AMCS’ profit and loss statement after their 2021 production proved that a season in Ararat would have “swallowed up” their profits entirely.

The society is yet to sit down with Council formally to negotiate a potential arrangement for next year, but Ms Blackie said a 30 to 40 per cent decrease may not be enough.

“It's a tricky one. I’m being silly here but no charge because we're a community group would be absolutely fantastic, 50 per cent might be something that would make a big difference to us,” she said.

“Quite frankly, quoting the 30 to 40 per cent, I don't know that that's going to make enough of a difference to us to make it worthwhile.”

Ararat Eisteddfod secretary, Chris Harris, attended the draft budget Council meeting to represent the local performing arts and is pleased costs have been reduced and the structure simplified.

“None of us are here to make money, but we want to be able to cover our costs, and I know the Town Hall’s got costs as well, but I think the lower fees, hopefully, will encourage some groups back,” she said.

“I welcome the simplification of the fee structure because then people will be able to build that into their preliminary budgets before an event.”

Ms Harris said the Ararat Eisteddfod has been lucky in recent years to receive an annual community grant to just about cover hiring costs.

“Because we're there all day and night, I think they actually gave us a cut anyway,” she said.

“I think it's a great thing for Ararat… I don't think we should get it for nothing but I'm really happy that community groups are on a different fee to the commercial groups.”

Ararat Musical Comedy Society has not ruled out a return to the Ararat Town Hall, awaiting a meeting with Council when restrictions allow.

“It's not something where we've gone, right that's it, we're out of here forever. It's going to be interesting to have those conversations with Council and see what arrangement we can come to,” Ms Blackie said.

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