The Ulster County Legislature last week approved $12,500 in funding for Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in a 13-9 vote following a debate about whether the theater should be eligible for aid when so many other residents and businesses are suffering.
The issue was settled during a virtual meeting of the Legislature held Tuesday, April 20.
John Parete, a Democrat serving District 22 (towns of Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive and Shandaken), was the most outspoken legislator against the measure, saying that benefitting “a multi-million dollar facility that has nothing to do with the COVID pandemic [or] the (Judeo)-Christian values of clothing the naked, housing the homeless and feeding the hungry.”
Parete said he opposed “subsidizing a $14 million net worth tax-exempt business that has been shuttered for over a year. The UPAC building is assessed at $3.3 million and pays no school taxes, no city taxes, no county taxes. They don’t pay any sales tax. And as a matter of fact, in the federal 990 form (for nonprofits), they don’t even contribute to the police and fire in Kingston when they’re having a performance.”
Dean Fabiano, a Republican serving District 3 (towns of Saugerties and Ulster), also voted against the measure.
“You go to UPAC to see a show, you pay anywhere between $65 and $120 per ticket,” Fabiano said. “It’s a business. And for them, maybe not so much now with the pandemic, but prior to the pandemic, they’d been a lucrative business. Personally, I think the only outside agencies we should be funding, especially at this time…(are) People Place, Ulster County Community Action, and Family of Woodstock, where there’s a direct sending of money and sending of food and clothing to people who are in need. Especially now when the money is tight.”
Peter Criswell, a Democrat serving District 7 (City of Kingston) voted in favor of the funding.
“I just want to say I’m going to be a loud vocal supporter for the arts ’til my dying breath,” Criswell said.
Ulster County has traditionally included $25,000 in funding for UPAC each year, which is used for utilities like electricity and heating. That figure was cut in half as part of the county’s 2021 budget, but the resolution to execute the agreement was dropped following a tie 4-4 vote in the Ways and Means Committee last March.
John Gavaris, a Democrat serving District 15 (Town of Wawarsing, Village of Ellenville), is the Ways and Means Committee chair, where he voted against the funding. It was brought out of committee by a procedural move by James Delaune, a Democrat serving District 17 (towns of Esopus and New Paltz) and brought before the entire legislature. Gavaris said he was reminded after the Ways and Means stalemate that approving the funding was part of a collective agreement as part of a larger debate over the funding of legislative programs.
“I have a very hard time with voting yes for this, but because we did agree as a package with everything else that got approved with things that I felt were more important, I guess I have to vote yes,” Gavaris said. “But I’m very, very uneasy about this. And it’s one of the hardest ones that I’m going to vote yes for that I really do not stand by.”
Legislature Chair David Donaldson, a Democrat serving District 6 (City of Kingston) voted in favor of the resolution.
“The arts are a fundamental part of our economy,” Donaldson said. “And UPAC in particular, I know some think that they’re not doing things for the community, but they put on a ballet for…inner city children who would probably never see a ballet if that wasn’t done. They do that on their dime, and they typically do that once or twice a year. They’re a really important part of the experience of inner-city children in the city of Kingston, many of them children of color, many of them that live within that area who might never see a ballet. And some of them take up ballet after that.”
Donaldson added that the arts are an important part of the community as a whole.
“When it comes to the arts, the arts are essential,” Donaldson said. “Many people work in the arts, and many people are starving in the arts because the money’s not there because they can’t put on the shows, just like people that were cutting hair are having trouble. We need to look at everybody and make that consideration when we’re looking at funding things.”