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The decision was made at the Gore District Council’s meeting to discuss long-term plan submissions yesterday.
At the long-term plan submissions hearing last week, Gore and Districts St James Theatre trustees urged the council to help fund the $653,000 shortfall for the $1,290,300 project.
The project includes the installation of a lift and seismic strengthening.
However, after the hearing, trust members learnt a $417,105 application for a Lotteries Environment and Heritage Fund grant had been successful.
That left a shortfall of $236,195.
Council chief executive Steve Parry advised councillors it would be good to place a limit on the amount to be underwritten in case the predicted shortfall grew.
"That will force the trust to either come back to the council and say ‘we’re over, what do we do? Or do we change the scope of the project?’," Mr Parry said.
Cr Doug Grant, the council’s representative on the trust, said members were all volunteers and he would be in favour of underwriting the shortfall.
"They have done an amazing amount of work.
"They keep that place going on a shoestring budget."
Cr Cliff Bolger suggested underwriting the shortfall as a loan "not converted to a gift or grant".
Cr Bret Highsted said he favoured underwriting and said he did not like the option of the theatre being closed.
Cr Stewart MacDonell said there were too many unknown factors regarding the upgrade, which included how much the work would cost and how much more funding could come in.
"There’s a whole lot of things up in the air ... I think we need to give them support but qualify it ... put a top number on it."
Cr Bronwyn Reid said the council was one of the few nationwide that did not support its town theatre.
Cr Nicky Davis said it was the council’s own building code that required a lift to be installed in the theatre.
"So we’re in a catch-22.
"We’re dictating rules, yet holding back money."
All councillors voted in favour of the motion to underwrite the trust’s request to a maximum of $237,000.
Other decisions included the submission from the Hokonui Runanga to set aside money towards upskilling staff and elected members regarding their responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi.
Mr Parry suggested $20,000 be added annually to the training budget.
"This may be a challenging concept for the council, however there can be little doubt that the cultural competency within the council as an organisation is not well developed," he said.
Mayor Tracy Hicks said increased contact between the council and runanga had showed him he needed to know more Maori culture.
Councillors were all in favour of adding the $20,000 to the budget.
Councillors also approved grants to two other groups.
The Hokonui Mountain Bike Club will receive $25,000 annually for the maintenance of the tracks it has developed, and Sports Southland will receive $10,000 annually to implement the regional spaces and places strategy.