Museum braced for big cuts

County may slash 1/3 of funds

Volunteer Kayren Goss pries sugar cookies loose from the pan after baking the batch in the old wood stove behind her in the bunkhouse at Cross Orchards during Fall Day at the Farm on Saturday. Goss was one of several volunteers from the Territorial Daughters of Colorado who were demonstrating old-time skills in the bunkhouse.

The Museum of Western Colorado is bracing for another significant slash in funding from Mesa County, as museum administrators consider how to absorb that blow while simultaneously planning to plead their case for no reductions to county commissioners.

The county has notified the museum it intends to cut funding from $375,000 this year to $250,000 next year. It would mark the fourth year in a row that the county has trimmed the amount of taxpayer dollars funneled to the umbrella organization that manages venues in Grand Junction, Fruita and Fruitvale.

Museum Executive Director Mike Perry said a 33 percent funding decrease would be “devastating” to the museum. He said he wasn’t prepared to discuss the potential impacts in detail, although he acknowledged it could result in additional facility closures.

“It’s hard for me to even go there, it is such a big blow to us,” he said. “I would just need to discuss with the (museum) board (of directors) what that might mean.”

Mesa County’s proposed 2012 budget holds mixed news for local nonprofit and community organizations. While the Grand Junction Economic Partnership is in line for a cash infusion a year after the county declined to contribute anything to the economic development group, most likely the museum will see fewer dollars to pay for programs. Overall, the county is expected to chip in $1.2 million to nonprofits next year, down from $1.8 million this year.

County leaders who are taking a hard look at their own internal departments’ spending plans say it’s a continuation of a philosophical shift in budgeting that requires organizations to explain how their mission and programs line up with the county’s objectives.

“I don’t look at it as the county is funding nonprofits,” Commissioner Janet Rowland said. “I look at it as we’re using nonprofits to help us meet our mission.”

Years ago, Rowland said, the county subsidized a number of nonprofit agencies without basing its decisions on any formalized criteria or standards. Now, nonprofits, just like county departments, are required to demonstrate how their funding requests fall into one of the county’s six budget outcome areas: economic vitality, public health, public safety, self-sufficient individuals and families, well-managed public resources, and well-planned and developed communities.

“It’s not like we have a pot of money that we just take requests from nonprofits,” Rowland said.

Among 14 funding requests ranked by a team of county employees within the well-planned communities outcome area, the museum ranked last.

“We’re not saying it’s not important or not important to the community, but just in the overall scope of what the county has to do,” providing funding for the museum isn’t as high a priority as other programs, Rowland said.

To cope with less county funding this year, the museum closed the Cross Orchards Living History Farm except for special events, opened the Museum of the West in downtown Grand Junction five days a week instead of six and left open three of its 14 paid staff positions.

Perry said museum membership is holding at roughly 1,700 and visitation to Dinosaur Journey was strong this summer due to the Tyrannosaurus rex exhibit. But he believes the museum has virtually tapped out its traditional ways of raising money because it doesn’t have a development director.

The museum could choose to supplement its $1.5 million annual budget by tapping into a nearly $1 million endowment created more than a decade ago, although he suggested that could be a last resort.

While the museum deals with a potential drop in funding, the county is expected to allocate $40,000 to GJEP next year and could make available an additional $60,000 to use as incentives to attract a business or businesses to the valley. GJEP received no county money this year.

Newly appointed Executive Director Kelly Flenniken said the funding demonstrates the county’s commitment to economic development.

“With a change in leadership comes a new spark in (GJEP), and this shows their willingness to come back to the table,” she said.

Flenniken said the organization intends to be more aggressive in generating business prospects.

“We’ve kind of been a receiver in the past and we do want to work more aggressively in the future to generate prospects,” she said.


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