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Charlotte Symphony hopes for surplus this season for first time in a decade

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The final tally for fiscal year 2012-13 won’t be in for a few months, but the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra expects to look backward with a frown and ahead with a smile.

Executive Director Robert Stickler projected that the budget deficit for the just-ended year will be about $600,000, up from a $423,000 deficit in 2011-12.

At the same time, the symphony board has just approved a budget for 2013-14 – the one that started two weeks ago – to yield a surplus of $1,000. If that happens, it’ll be the first season the orchestra finishes in the black since 2001-02.

What inspires the optimism?

Stickler described last season as a “kitchen sink” year: The orchestra piled one-time expenses into the just-ended period to enter this season on a more stable financial footing.

“We tried to take a long view and say, ‘Our performance going forward is what matters,’ ” he said. “We tried not to do things that would’ve temporarily made us look better. From an expense perspective, that popped our deficit number.”

An example: The symphony had been hiring replacements for two musicians who suffered from disabilities and seldom played. The organization helped them retire early, which generated $100,000 in expenses last year, and will save more than $50,000 this year by not hiring replacement players.

In the latter part of fiscal year 2012, orchestra management applied payments of pledges for 2013 to get a smaller deficit in 2012. That won’t happen again, so those multi-year pledges will significantly enhance revenue this year. And the $40,000 spent on consultants for the executive director search and a financial turnaround won’t be repeated.

For 2012-13, the CSO had a $250,000 increase in expenses. The musicians agreed to freeze expenses this year, so any increase in revenue will help the bottom line. (The budget is about $9.5 million, up from $9.3 million last year. Ticket sales declined about 1 percent overall, due to disappointing sales for KnightSounds, which the orchestra is repackaging this year.)

Stickler had noted at the May symphony membership meeting that 1,331 contributors had invested in the symphony, a 14 percent increase over the same time last year; the average contribution was $2,307, more than double the previous year’s average; and there were 26 percent more League Members, who give $2,000 or more.

“Those (positive) trends did not go away,” he said. “If all you did was look at the bottom-line number, you’d say we had a horrible year. But if you look below the surface, you see figures that help us for the future. We feel the donor community cares about our viability going forward, and we’re planning to give them a better year.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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