Originally created 09/07/02

Fund the museum



Every community worth its salt has a museum and the vast majority of them pay for it out of the local government's general budget. But not in Augusta. Every year the Augusta Museum of History's executive director has to come before the city commission to beg for more money to keep the museum going.

"In the 5 1/2 years I've been director, five of those years have been spent dealing with this issue of local government funding," Scott Loehr told the commission's Finance Committee, during which time, he added, funding has gone down from $500,000 annually to $25,000 per month.

His appearance before the commission panel last month marked the second year in a row in which Loehr had to go hat in hand to plead for the restoration of even that monthly subsidy which was about to run out this month.

If the $25,000 isn't restored for October, November and December, said Loehr, "there will be a drastic reduction of programs and services" that could result in closing the museum's doors.

Although private donations have made possible $4.6 million worth of capital improvements to the Reynolds Street attraction, financial support from local government is necessary to pay for operating expenses, including salaries, utility bills and maintenance of exhibits.

It would be a terrible black eye for the community if the museum went to seed - particularly this unique museum which does such a marvelous job of story-telling the history of our region from cave man days to the present.

Fortunately, the Augusta Commission realized the museum's importance in time to come up with $75,000 this week to keep it going, as well as $50,000 for the Lucy Craft Laney Museum.

But the money came out of the contingency fund, which is terribly inappropriate, as is funding the museums hand-to-mouth each year without them knowing for sure what money they can expect to receive, or when. How can they make long-term plans without a secure budget?

We know the city commission is strapped for revenues - but so are most communities, and they somehow find money to pay for their museums out of the general budget. So should Augusta.