The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra eliminated a five-year-old accumulated deficit, ending the fiscal year with a surplus of $126,000 on a budget of $12.5 million, it reported Wednesday. The SPCO said it achieved the goal by increasing its subscriber base and the size of its annual fund, and by keeping growth in expenses to just 3.2 percent.

Despite terrible news in most sectors of the economy, the SPCO enters its 50th-anniversary year in 2009 with "no external debt and strong cash flow," said Kelly Belich, communications manager.

The orchestra's annual fund totaled $4.2 million, a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year. Its endowment was $36 million, the same as a year earlier.

Though the Ordway Center in St. Paul is its principal performance home, the SPCO has done well with neighborhood concerts in Apple Valley, Arden Hills, Minneapolis, New Brighton and other satellite locations. Paid attendance for all venues averaged 85 percent of capacity. Even so, earned income (ticket sales) accounted for just 21 percent of the SPCO's budget, with contributed income making up 66 percent. The remainder came from drawing on the endowment.

Since 2002, the SPCO has increased its subscriber base by 40 percent, to 7,000 households.

In July, the 35-member chamber orchestra lost longtime president Bruce Coppock, who left for health reasons. He was replaced this month by Sarah Lutman, formerly senior vice president of content and media at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media.

Claude Peck • 612-763-7977