We’re history, county told: Museum of Western Colorado warns against funding cuts

Museum of Western Colorado Executive Director Mike Perry, right, and David Bailey, curator of history, are shown at Museum of the West, which is at 462 Ute Ave. in downtown Grand Junction. The facility is one of several that the Museum of Western Colorado operates.

Museum of Western Colorado staff and volunteers pleaded Wednesday with Mesa County commissioners not to follow through on a tentative plan to trim county funding to the museum by one-third, warning that such a cut would have dire consequences for the museum.

The two groups talked for about 45 minutes but ended their meeting without museum officials providing specific details on the impacts they would feel or commissioners giving any indication whether they will proceed with trimming the county’s contribution to the museum from $375,000 this year to $250,000 next year.

“If we are looking at the number that has been reported in the newspaper, we’re in big trouble,” museum Executive Director Mike Perry told commissioners, referring to the $250,000 figure currently plugged into the county’s 2012 budget.

After the meeting, Perry said the museum’s Board of Directors will meet next week to discuss what a 33 percent reduction in funding from the county might mean for the museum. He acknowledged that should the county’s subsidy continue to decline at a similar rate in the coming years, the museum could be forced to close altogether.

If the county holds to the $250,000 allocation next year, it would mark the fourth year in a row that fewer taxpayer dollars have come to the umbrella organization that manages the Museum of the West in Grand Junction, Dinosaur Journey in Fruita and Cross Orchards Living History Farm in Fruitvale.

After watching funding from the county tumble from $450,000 to $375,000 this year, the museum closed Cross Orchards except for special events, opened the Museum of the West five days a week instead of six and left open three of its 14 paid staff positions.

Perry told commissioners that while museum membership is holding steady at more than 1,600, and staff and volunteers have raised about $1 million each year for the last few years, boosting those numbers is difficult because the nonprofit organization doesn’t have a development director. Museum officials say a nearly $1 million endowment created more than a decade ago isn’t sufficient to tap into to supplement the museum’s $1.5 million annual budget.

Commissioner Janet Rowland asked about other ways to generate revenue for the museum, such as offering more trips. She said the county is looking at alternative sources of funding and encouraged the museum to present its own ideas.

Commissioners in the last two weeks have received several dozen emails from residents and museum supporters asking them to reconsider funding cuts, Perry said.


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