Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 26 June 2012 17:46
But a long-range plan for engaging the city’s ensemble of the museums—including the Mennonite heritage complex along D Street—remain unclear 11?2 years after the city eliminated funding for staffing.
And money remains the issue.
“We have good museums,” Mayor Delores Dalke said. “It’s ridiculous to just let them set there and not take care of them. But how much can we afford to spend of taxpayers’ money to keep a museum going versus taking care of all of the other things a city is required to do?”
At the time the funding cut took effect Jan. 1, 2011, the museums were guided by a city-appointed advisory board as well as a group called Friends of the Museums appointed by the former full-time museum director.
Neither group was active in 2011, but the city did convene a public meeting in February to gather input from citizens about the future of the museums.
Meanwhile, an $84,261 grant awarded in May 2009 by the Heritage Trust Fund of the Kansas State Historical Society to repair the chimney and roof and replace wallpaper at the Schaeffler House was finally acted upon in 2011 with the start of renovations.
The city’s portion of the $105,327 project was $21,066.
In early 2012, an advisory board was reappointed on the initiative of the mayor; it started meeting in February with Mary Regier serving as chairperson.
Also appointed to the board were Anita Boese, David Brown, Dan Dalke, Willie Ensz, Aleen Ratzlaff and Tim Unruh.
Projects in 2012
Regier said the board was pleased to hear of the city’s plan to revitalize the Schaeffler yard by replacing two trees, pouring new sidewalks, and adding new lamps, a sodded lawn and an irrigation system.
City vouchers indicate these recent improvements cost almost $9,000 for materials, plus a half-day’s labor from more than a dozen members of the city staff. The project was paid for with money from the city’s capital improvements fund.
“We felt like we had wonderful support from the city in that they chose sod over planting, because we know the kind of investment that is,” Regier said.
The city budgeted $16,000 for museums in its 2012 budget, which was evenly designated for utilities and maintenance.
In early May, empowered by the recent facility improvements, the advisory board asked permission to submit a museums budget for 2013. The board returned with a request for $52,745—$38,000 for repairs and maintenance, and the rest for promotion, cleaning and limited staff to host tour groups.
City Administrator Larry Paine said the city council will decide how much of the board’s request will be included in the next budget.
Dalke said if the entire amount were included, the city would need a property-tax increase of more than 4 mills to pay for it.
“Is that what the taxpayers of Hillsboro want?” she asked. “We’ve got (a tax levy of) about 40 mills right now. Do we add on another four to five mills and pay 45 mills so a museum is open?
“To me it’s kind of gut-wrenching to figure out,” she added. “We’ve got a very, very good museum there, but how do we keep it going, and where does the money come from?”
Fueled by volunteers
To Regier and the advisory board, the budget they submitted addresses bare essentials.
“When buildings stand empty they just deteriorate,” Regier said. “The things we have listed that they call capital outlay are things that need to be done immediately just to maintain.”
And what about the future?
“A short-term dream is that we could reopen the museums with staff,” Regier said. “So far, everything has been volunteer.
“We’ve put in a lot of time,” she added. “For example, it took 36 hours just to clean the Schaeffler House because it hadn’t been done in three years. There were two of us who did that. One person we paid and I volunteered my time.
“Then we went out to the Adobe House and barn. There were four of us; one we paid.”
Regier said the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau helped cover some of the expenses in preparation for tours resulting from the Hillsboro all-school reunion in late May and a bus tour of 41 people from Wichita June 5.
The board also has enhanced the museum store in the visitors center with books and souvenirs related to the city’s pioneer past. Proceeds from sales go to support specific museum-related projects.
“What I find is, when people are on these tours they want Hillsboro stuff,” Regier said. “The fact that we have T-shirts and caps—it’s a great promotion for our town.”
Regier said the board believes the museums can be an economic asset to the city.
“Those people don’t just spend money with us,” she added. “They’re in stores, too. Part of the (Wichita) tour was to go to Dale’s (Supermarket) and hear about sausage because they had sausage for lunch.”
How much of an asset?
The question remains, though, whether the museums can generate enough financial benefits to offset even a portion of the expense required to maintain the facilities.
Adding full-time staff would increase the expense significantly.
“Maybe the museum has to have, and will continue to need, more volunteers,” Dalke said. “We think we have to pay somebody to do everything. We have a full-time person in the Chamber office, we have a full-time economic development director—do we need a full-time museum director?”
Dalke said Hillsboro is too small to pay for all the services and assistance residents are requesting.
“If we had 4,000 people instead of 3,000, there’s a lot of things we could do,” she said. “If we can figure out how to get them (to live) here, maybe we can do some of this.”
Meanwhile, Dalke said raising the mill levy will only make Hillsboro less attractive to potential new residents.
“We have probably one of the lower (mill levies) in Marion County, but I don’t think the rest of Marion County really is what our competition is,” she said.
“When a new professor comes to the college, they don’t even come to live in Hillsboro sometimes. They live in Newton or McPherson to get the kind of housing they want and because their tax rates are lower than ours are.”
Dalke said while the council hasn’t articulated a vision for the museums, it will be making a clear statement about their future by the level of budget support it approves in the next month or so for 2013.
“A lot of people don’t realize that when you do the budget, you determine where the money is going to go for the next year and a half,” she said. “If the money’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, it’s not.
“They need to be very involved in that budget-making process.”