La Grange amusement tax proposal draws mixed reviews
A skateboarder passes by the La Grange Theatre Friday. The village is studying an amusement tax which would add 50 cents to the price of a ticket. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Would you support a 50 cent amusement tax on La Grange Theatre tickets?
Updated: August 20, 2012 1:55AM
Initial reaction has been mixed to a proposed amusement tax, which could add 50 cents to a La Grange Theatre ticket and bring thousands of dollars to the village in new revenue.
“Fifty cents is reasonable for what the village needs,” said Maura Quinlan of LaGrange Park. “Their prices are reasonable. Everybody’s having a hard time in this economy. We could all chip in a little and help the cause.”
Margo Leardini of La Grange, and her 7-year-old son, Hayden, agreed.
“I would still go to the La Grange Theatre,” Margo Leardini said. “It’s still cheaper than first-run movies.”
Matt Beaver of Western Springs expressed reservations.
“They seem to keep boosting the prices since the theater was renovated, and it’s getting more and more expensive,” Beaver said. “Maybe 50 cents isn’t so bad for one time, but not if they keep doing it.”
In 2009, the Village Board approved a $1 million grant to renovate the 1925 theater at 80 S. La Grange Road. The money must be repaid if the business fails and no longer operates as a theater.
Ticket prices have risen from $4.50 to $5.50 since the restored building reopened in June 2009 as a sub first-run theater, getting films earlier in the distribution cycle. Prices are $5.50 for adults, $5 for ages 2 to 11 and age 60 and older, and $4.50 for matinees before 6 p.m.
Adult prices at the nearest theater for first-run films at the Quarry in Hodgkins range from $8.50 at a matinee to $14.50 for an IMAX 3-D show.
Lanita Hosso of LaGrange Park said a lower-priced theater is a big draw, especially for families.
“If the increase is minimal, like 50 cents, that’s not too bad. But once it gets up in the price range of regular first-run theaters, you’re not going to have the people coming,” Hosso said. “It’s a real fine line.”
Theater co-owner David Rizner agreed.
“To raise our prices putting us closer to our competition for first-run movies and have none of that go back into the business hurts our position in the marketplace,” Rizner said.
Some improvements planned as part of the $3.4 million total renovation were instead delayed or new needs have emerged, such as replacing portions of the roof and H-vac system, upgrading seats moving to a digital format, he said.
“The model we created at the time is essentially a break-even model,” Rizner said. “The idea never was and still isn’t a get-rich venture. We wanted to keep a community theater in the community and just basically support itself.”
Rizner said it wouldn’t be financially feasible to absorb the 50-cent increase and not pass along the tax to customers.
La Grange resident David Hayes called the tax a bad idea.
“It’s not the 50 cents, but it’s that they’re not addressing the problem, which is the town’s budget. They should look to internal expenses,” Hayes said. “Fifty cents doesn’t sound like much but over time and with increases in other taxes, it could add up.
“I’m against it, and I live here,” he said. “They’ll nickel and dime us to death, not just with the theater, but with other taxes.”
La Grange Village Board members are split on whether to add the tax as a means of alleviating a budget crunch. The board has approved $1.6 million in cuts for 2012-13, as well as increases in the water rate, building fees and permits and the telecommunications tax, but not the utility tax.
Trustees Mike Horath, Jim Palermo and Bill Holder said they favored exploring the amusement tax June 11 as a means of shifting some of the tax burden onto nonresidents, who increase the demand for village services in the downtown.
Trustees Mark Kuchler, Mark Langan and Jeff Nowak opposed the amusement tax saying it singled out the theater as the only business to be affected. The tax also could reduce the amount of people spending money in a thriving downtown, the opponents said.
Village President Liz Asperger broke the tie, directing village staff to further study the matter and report back.
Board members had considered but eventually rejected a 50-cent amusement tax during theater discussions in 2009, estimated to generate $80,000 a year.
Staff members said during a recent annual meeting with theater owners Rizner and John Rot, attendance is reported up, as well as an increase in revenues, which is covering the increased cost of expanded operations since the renovation project.