$50,000 sought from Sunset Beach for planetarium digital system

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH—As $50,000 is sought from the town toward Ingram Planetarium’s new digital projection system, council indicated it would consider releasing $15,000 now and the remainder in the next budget year.

In pleas reiterated Monday from a Nov. 19 presentation, planetarium leaders Scott Kucera and Tom Smith said the requested contribution is crucial for timely installation of a new $275,000 digital projection system next spring.

Donors have contributed about half the cost so far.

“We haven’t been just sitting around waiting for a handout,” said Smith, a member of the Ocean Isle Museum Foundation board that oversees the Sunset Beach-based planetarium. “$50,000 is critical so we can put it on order and have it installed before the prime season.”

“I wouldn’t push it too far,” town councilman Ron Watts said. “I’ve really got mixed feelings about this funding.”

Watts said he doesn’t think it’s the town’s responsibility to fund private organizations, and he agrees with the town’s game plan initiated two or three years ago to reduce funding to the planetarium.

He urged the officials to diligently continue with other fundraising efforts, including a pledge-card drive.

“When the largest employer of our community is laying off people, the economy isn’t just beyond our steps,” Watts said. “It’s right here.”

In the current 2008-2009 fiscal year, council budgeted $15,000 for annual operations at the planetarium and $15,000 for the digital system.

Fellow councilman Len Steiner said the goal of reducing yearly contributions from the previous $25,000 for operations was to “let the planetarium know at some point we expect them to stand on their own two legs. That’s why we’ve been cutting back.”

He favored providing assistance “provided they go ahead and install that system.”

“During your presentation, we asked you to look very diligently at other sources for your contributions,” Steiner added. “My thought is to leave this year’s budget as it is and to make some allocation commitment to allocate in the 2009-2010 budget.”

Both Steiner and Watts want to cap the amount. Watts favored giving $50,000 if planetarium leaders come up with “another $100,000 to match.”

“Scott, the concern I have is the initial money you raised seemed to come from very few sources,” Watts told Kucera. “We just feel like there should be more of an outreach from the community. We don’t want to commit the money without feeling like there’s going to be some support from elsewhere.”

Kucera said they will be going to other municipalities and also have a meeting scheduled in January with N.C. Sen. R.C. Soles in a plea for state funding.

Kucera said Soles responded positively to their proposal.

“It could be different in the long session in January as budgets are being cut across the board,” he added.

Town attorney Michael Isenberg said council could not commit Monday night to what it’s going to do in the next fiscal budget.

“You can amend the 2008-09 budget, you can express your intent to consider it in 2009-10 deliberations, but you can’t make a binding commitment tonight before you go through the budget process,” he said.

Smith said they had submitted a business plan and are calling on other sources.

Town councilman Bob Bobinski asked whether they are in a loan or bailout situation.

“My own experience is [the planetarium] is not a memorable experience right now,” he said. “I think it will be once you update and make it the jewel it should be again.”

Councilman Wilson Sherrill said it would be wise for planetarium officials to keep them apprised of their fundraising activities and progress made.

“That would help us as we move toward the budget process,” he said.

In other matters council approved:

•On a 4-1 vote designating 690 Sunset Blvd. N. as a special sign district. Generation Builders requested the designation to allow more flexibility for signage. Watts voted against the measure.

•An amendment limiting fence heights to 4 feet on the island and to 6 feet on the mainland and prohibiting front-yard fences anywhere and side-yard fences on a corner lot.

•On a 3-2 vote an amendment for off-street parking requirements.

•Appointing residents Carol Scott, Sue Weddle, Adrienne Watts, Lynn Standquist, Dave Nelson and Doug Hill to a lead-off streetscape committee charged with determining landscaping and beautifying along the “gateway to the island,” Sunset Boulevard.

•Donating 19 found or abandoned bicycles that have not been claimed to the Brunswick Family Assistance Thrift Store.