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Columbus Symphony musicians make budget proposal hoping to save orchestra

With the possibility there will NOT be a Columbus Symphony Orchestra next season, musicians came together Tuesday and presented a financial plan they hope will save the symphony.

About 30 of the Columbus Symphony's musicians, dressed as if ready to go on stage, stood behind two of their leaders as they announced a new budget proposal they hope will keep them playing for another season.

"We're confident with what we've proposed we can keep all current full-time and per service musicians," Musicians' union president Doug Fisher said.

Fisher, who has been with the orchestra since 1984, said they're prepared to work with the $9.5 million budget the orchestra's board proposed.

"While we disagree with that figure nevertheless that is the figure that they believe. And for this symphony orchestra to survive and thrive in Central Ohio we must have the support of Fortune 500 companies that are located here. And since they so vehemently embrace this $9.5 million figure, we have done our best to accept that figure and to create a plan on the expense side which will provide a balanced budget," he said.

But the musicians want to add to the bottom line. They recommend including $1.5 million in "donated services" in the budget. Fisher says the board should budget for such "in kind" services.

"What the board and management will say is that you can't predict "In-Kind" and that's true, but you can't predict ticket sales, you can't predict donations. What you have to do is intelligently study past patterns and history and make reasonable assumptions based on that past history," Fisher said.

The musicians say the CSO has averaged about $1.5 million worth of donated services in each of the past three seasons.

Also, the musicians' offered to cut their salaries by a half million dollars to $5 million. Jim Akins is chair of the CSO Committee.

"That's going to be in the neighborhood of about a seven percent, six-and-a-half percent to seven percent cut, depending on how we figure out how to administer that. Whether that's done with salaries only or partially from salaries or pension contributions or health care co-pays; that's all yet to be determined," he said.

That seven percent cut would decrease salaries from an average of about $55,000 to about $51,000 - much higher than what the symphony's board called for in April. The board proposed a 40 percent pay cut, slashing salaries to about $33,000 for full-time players. The musicians unanimously rejected that offer.

CSO Board president Buzz Trafford said this latest announcement is a step backward.

"They had previously made a proposal that would have allocated $4.9 million to musician expense. So what they've done with this proposal is increase the proposed musician expense portion of the budget by $100,000," Trafford said.

Also Trafford said including "In-Kind" donations to the budgets income artificially inflates it. He said most orchestras do not include "In-Kind" services in their budgets.

"By adding it, and then suggesting that what they're doing is allocating a standard or average percentage of the total budget to musicians' salaries what they're actually doing is trying to increase the expense number to make the musician expense number look smaller," Trafford said.

The Musicians have also contended Symphony managers have poorly managed the orchestra and they enlisted the help of Dan LaMacchia - a Dublin financial planner - to make their case. LaMacchia's analysis found the CSO is paying too much for rent, box office operations and postage. Musician union president Doug Fisher was asked if the board ever challenged the increases.

"I do not know if the board ever challenged these increases," Fisher answered.

CSO Chairman Trafford has not seen the analysis but was skeptical.

"That doesn't sound right to me. And I understand that some gentleman, a stockbroker, has issued a report," Trafford said.

Both sides say they're prepared to continue talks. The musicians would like a moderator to help with negotiations.