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ORCHESTRA NEEDS COUNTY GIFT AND THEN SOME STRICT REFORM; AID MEANS A CHANCE TO PURSUE OUTSIDE HELP

EVEN WITH THE infusion of $150,000 of additional county aid before the end of this year, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's long-term troubles will not be over.

But without that county care package, they may never get solved.

That's why, given the orchestra's intent to bring in outside experts and presumably follow their advice, County Executive Gorski should forward the $150,000 in emergency funding the orchestra needs to make it through this fiscal year.

It is disappointing that the much-ballyhooed stabilization plan that allowed the orchestra to start its delayed concert season apparently contains little in the way of concrete reform.

It also is disappointing that an organization so dependent on public support has been so disdainful of the public when it comes to revealing exactly what has been worked out.

But perhaps the lack of any real progress was to be expected, given the crisis atmosphere in which orchestra officials were working and the fact that the only outside expertise came in the form of a lone consultant hired only three months ago.

The most promising part of the new survival strategy calls for bringing in the American Symphony Orchestra League to review the Philharmonic's finances and, along with the consultant, draw up a long-term plan. The plan will draw on the experience of other successful orchestras, using the Orchestra League's knowledge of what has worked and what hasn't in other cities of similar demographics.

Tapping the league's expertise was a requirement for the Philharmonic to receive an interest-free loan of $300,000 to $500,000 from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation to help it through the current season. But even had it not been a loan requirement, it is a sensible step that will lend not only help, but credibility, to whatever plan is devised.

Gorski and County Legislature officials, understandably concerned about throwing good money after bad, had sought proof that the Philharmonic's financial problems had been solved before releasing the requested $150,000.

But from what has been pieced together about the orchestra's settlement with its musicians, it is clear that the future remains up in the air pending, among other things, the Orchestra League study.

County money combined with $150,000 pledged to a private fund-raising group, the Wendt Foundation money and another $200,000 the orchestra expects to raise would help the Philharmonic reopen its credit lines and survive until long-term reforms are in place.

The county's hesitancy is understandable, particularly given the potential impact of state budget cuts on county finances.

But the community deserves the chance to have the BPO benefit from the Orchestra League's expertise.

Gorski and the Legislature -- who have committed $872,123 to the BPO in next year's budget -- should take the $150,000 from this year's expected surplus and provide that chance. In return, they should get iron-clad guarantees of reform following completion of the Orchestra League's study.

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