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Columbus Symphony proposes musician cuts to save finances

The board's restructuring plan is still up for negotiation. The proposal calls for budget cuts totaling about two and a half million dollars. Those cuts would eliminate the jobs of about two dozen musicians and shorten the symphony season. Six musicians walked out of a meeting with CSO officials on Thursday. Douglas Fisher, President of the Central Ohio Federation of Musicians Local 103 led the walk out to protest the changes.

"We were completely shocked and we're actually quite angry with how they chose to announce their plans," he said.

Fisher says musicians were excluded from the planning process and he says cutbacks are not the answer to their financial problems.

"The primary job of the board is to solicit those donations for the orchestra and they have more or less failed to do that with some notable exceptions," he said.

In 2005, the symphony musicians gave back a total of $1.3 million in salary to help the symphony gain financial stability.

This year, symphony officials predict a $1.5 million deficit, slightly better than last year when the symphony ended $2.2 million in the red.

Executive Director Tony Beadle says in the past, the symphony used bridge campaigns or extra fundraising at the end of the year to stay out of debt. He says big donors helped the symphony break even assuming that they would gain financial stability the next year.

"Once you take that away and you realize that you can't go to the same people for bridge campaign money year in and year out, it became apparent there was a structural deficit," Beadle said.

Symphony officials say they hope the proposed changes will put the symphony on firm financial ground, but Chairman of the Symphony board Buzz Trafford says the current situation is dire. "We have exhausted our reserves. We are riding pretty close to the road right now and in fact we have a real struggle on our hands to survive this season," Trafford said.

Trafford agrees that some donors are getting discouraged.

"The reality is that people aren't going to contribute to a symphony that they don't think is fiscally responsible," Trafford said.

Trafford says he is sympathetic to the musicians and is willing to continue working with them on the proposed changes.

"I was disappointed, disappointed that they view this the way that they do. I view it as a joint problem that we have to work through," he said.

Fisher says he does not believe the board is willing to negotiate and questions the future of the symphony.

"This may be the last season of the Columbus symphony if the board is serious about firing 22 people," Fisher said.

The musicians are under contract until August 31 and as long as the conditions of the contract continue to be met, musicians say there are no plans to strike.