To the Editor:
Several years ago, the City asked the community to step up and support the museum project or they would have to close the doors. Folks did volunteer. The City bought the building on Main Streetand they were fully behind opening the museum at that new location. With grant dollars and work by the FFA students and other volunteers, the building was gutted and renovated for use by the museum.
The museum has done everything the City has asked us to do. We were told by the Council that the old museum location, the Fire Station and Jail, was our responsibility, so we took charge of the Fire Station & Jail restoration project. This was a 7-8 year project that ended up costing over $100,000. The total project was funded by grants and fundraisers- all done by the museum. There was no expense to the City. They have asked us to set long-term goals and we have done that. We created a five-year plan in 2006, which was updated in 2010, and again in 2015. Ninety percent of the goals in these plans have been reached. We created an endowment in 2007 with the plan to use only the annual interest, not the principle, for museum operations. Our intent was to grow this fund so we could eventually pay for operating expenses to sustain the museum long-term.
The museum has also recently restored the 1860’s log cabin located next to the Fire Station and Jail. The project cost $13,000 and was again funded by a grant and local fundraisers- no cost to the City. The museum sponsors several special events which brings a large group of folks to town every year. They include the family oriented Fall Festival, summer programs for kids, women’s events and workshops for people of all ages.
The City is trying to promote tourism and economic development. The museum is right here! We have brought people from Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Vinton and several other towns to La Porte to the museum (a first time visit to La Porte for many of them). Many of these folks return every year and visit other businesses in town while they’re here.
But now is seems that the City does not want to support the museum. The Council is questioning whether the museum has the support of the folks in La Porte. We feel that we have many supporters not only from the city but also from the rural area. While the rural population does not pay city taxes, they shop at the local businesses, attend or volunteer at the schools, churches, museum, etc. and they consider themselves a part of La Porte City. The city and rural community have been supportive of our restoration projects in the past and continue to donate valuable items to the museum.
The Museum had over 2,500 people visit the museum last year. Many of these folks attended special events where they buy a ticket and those dollars do not show as an “admission” fee. Some events like the Fall Festival do not have an admission fee but rather have food available for purchase, etc. Sometimes there are events that are free, where the museum is simply trying to give back to the community and show our appreciation for the residents that have supported our restoration projects, etc.
Several volunteers spend over 2,000 hours every year at the museum. We value our volunteers and they are quick to help with jobs like dusting, painting, preparing food for special events, putting together exhibits, etc. However, they do not want to do public relations work or put together brochures. They do not want full responsibility for deciding what the new exhibits will be each year and finding where we can locate items for those exhibits. The museum always tries to use items that we own, but some years, such as the current year, we have a large percentage of items that come from outside the museum’s inventory. That is the only way to keep exhibits new and interesting. We have gone to Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, and several other cities to bring in items for display, and that means these items need to be picked up and then returned at the end of the year. Through the connections with Silo & Smokestacks and other organizations that the museum director has acquired, we have also been able to bring in the Civil War trailer and an exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute. Volunteers would not be able to do this. No volunteer wants a full time job.
The City is giving the museum $32,000 in the current fiscal year towards our budget. In FY17, they want to cut that in half to $16,000. This will pay for maintenance of their building and utilities, but does not pay for any of the museum salaries or operating expenses. The museum has multiple sites to maintain. We have the Main Street location, the Fire Station and Jail, and the log cabin, which all house exhibits.
We do have an endowment and the City Council would like us to use it to fund all operating expenses at the museum. But they are looking at the short term only. If we fund the museum solely with the endowment, what happens in five or six years when the money is gone? Will they close the doors? What will happen to all of the City history and artifacts that so many residents have donated to the museum? What happens to the years of hard work by volunteers to make the museum what it is today? If they go back to the early days of the museum when it was strictly run by volunteers, we know what will happen. We’ve been down this path before. Exhibits will never change, there will be no special events, and people will quickly lose interest. And who will care for the Fire Station, Jail and log cabin and the collections housed in those buildings?
The museum board is looking long-term and to the future. We want to grow the endowment and use only the interest accrued by it to help fund museum expenses.
If you ask the City what the museum’s current budget is they will tell you it is $55,945. But you need to know the whole story. The City only funds $31,560. The museum is funding $24,385 of that total. We pay for part of the salaries, we pay for all grant work, we pay for all special event expenses, and we are also covering operating expenses such as office supplies and elevator maintenance.
For Fiscal Year 2017, the City has approved a budget for the museum of $48,510, but they are only funding $16,485, which will pay for utilities and maintenance of their building. We would ask that they also pay the director’s salary of $15,000. That will still leave the museum to cover all operating expenses, including special events and grant work totaling $17,025.
We are asking supporters of the museum to attend the budget hearing on February 22 and to sign a petition asking the City Council to fund $31,485 of the museum’s expenses for the 2017 fiscal year. The petition is available at A Cut on Main, Hoppy’s PRIMitive and Proper, Knight Klipz, LPC Connect and You’re Look’n Good.
La Porte City FFA Historical & Ag Museum Board of Directors; Dean Bostian, Eric Coulter, Jerry Erdahl, Angie Hutton, Teresa Renaud, Sherry Sheffler and Louis Beck