I’m a resident of Jenkintown, and I’m also a lover of movies and restored movie theaters, so when I received an e-blast from the Borough promoting the upcoming run of the new “Lion King” movie at the Hiway Theater, I found myself conflicted.
The Hiway Theater shows independent productions (art house movies) not typically found in the multi-plexes, while also serving as Jenkintown’s most conspicuous downtown attraction. The Hiway operates as a non-profit commercial enterprise showing movies produced by for-profit studios. In 2017, the Theater reported a net income of $16,129.
Since its opening, the Borough has provided the theater with an annual stipend of at least $10,000 in addition to the $13,000 per year it does not pay the Borough and School District in real estate taxes.
Whether you support the theater or not, this is the stark reality of the matter: Your tax dollars are going into the pockets of wealthy Hollywood producers.
The theory behind this subsidy holds that it spurs benefits to the broader community. Theater patrons help support the restaurants in the area and vice versa. But we don’t know that it’s true, because you won’t find a verifiable analysis on the Borough’s website. If the Hiway, or its non-profit partners ran these numbers, they don’t appear on their respective websites either.
I recognize that in the grand scheme of things, the numbers are relatively small. Nonetheless, a taxpayer, especially one that struggles to keep their own lights on, might have issues with the Borough sending out promotional emails on behalf of commercial enterprise when it can’t seem to notify residents when they post meeting agendas or minutes, or even their livestream archived video on their website.
It may seem like a minor thing, but it does indicate priorities. Abington provides an admirably comprehensive online archive of agendas, minutes, videos, and even copies of property development filings. This is what government should do, whether required by law or not.
Jenkintown’s complete failure to inform the community of plans to build a pocket park until after the fact still stings here. The fact that even the local Democrats failed to put someone on the primary ballot would indicate a growing lack of confidence among residents in the Borough’s direction.
Still, I have heard that the new Lion King is amazing. You probably should go see it.