North Creek Depot Museum
For years, the town of Johnsburg general fund budget has contained a line item appropriating money to help support the North Creek Depot Museum. The appropriation has typically been between $7,500 and $10,000 per year. Town Supervisor estimates that during the past four years, the town’s contribution to the museum totaled nearly $40,000.
But in the tight economic straights the town finds itself, town leaders are now weighing whether it’s appropriate to continue funding the museum and if so, at what level. The issue arose, town Supervisor Ron Vanselow said, after the town’s legal counsel indicated that it isn’t appropriate to fund a non-profit unless the town receives something in return. Vanselow said he found a four-year-old agreement between the town and the museum that described an arrangement whereby the town would provide funding in exchange for some educational components the museum would present to local school children. But that was four years ago.
At the Tuesday, Sept. 18 town board meeting, Vanselow invited members of the museum board to make their case for continued funding. The discussion was at times heated and emotional.
Helen Miner, co-president of the museum’s board of directors, told the town board that without the town’s funding, the museum can’t function as it currently does. The museum board has already eliminated the museum director’s position, Miner said. But in order to maintain its state certification, it has to reinstate the position, at least on a part-time basis.
Miner told the board the museum has drawn 2,500 visitors so far this summer. Those people spend money in the town, she said. Additionally, the museum raised $27,000 last year and almost all of it was spent locally for fuel, various supplies, advertising and publicity and other expenses.
Miner said that when the museum was first established, it was one of the few non-profits in the town and therefore fund-raising efforts were largely successful as residents rallied around the museum and supported it. Much has changed in the intervening years, she said. There are many more non-profits and fund-raising is far more difficult.
Without town funding, the museum would have four basic options:
It could cut out all non-essential expenses and only open during the two summer months.
It could turn the museum over to the town.
It could merge with the railroad company and form a joint venture.
It could shut down completely.
Miner invited the board to visit the museum for a tour, so it could experience first-hand what the museum offers and adds to the town.
“We have a gem right here in Johnsburg,” Miner told them.
Board member Mary Moro shared some of the history of the train depot. Moro said starting around 1990; the volunteer board raised more than $450,000 to restore the museum. Moro told the board that the museum represented the heart of the town of Johnsburg, from Teddy Roosevelt to the railroad and skiing. It is the link between the town’s rich history and its present and serves to inform both visitors and residents of the town’s legacy.
“The town has benefitted greatly from the museum,” she said, suggesting that in a way, the museum has prepaid the town for the funding it is now receiving. “I agree that you shouldn’t give something if you’re getting nothing in return. But we’ve prepaid and the town has benefitted greatly.”
Museum board member Michael Brassel urged the board to consider the place the museum has in the town.
“The town of Indian Lake has a museum,” Brassel said. “Minerva has a museum. Picture us without a museum.”
But Town Councilman Peter Olesheski was unfazed by the presentation.
“I respect you and all that you’ve done,” Olesheski said. “I’ve got to be honest, I appreciate the challenges you’ve had to overcome. But I’m not sure it’s appropriate for the town to be singling out an organization and giving it a line item in the budget.”
Olesheski suggested the museum board explore applying for occupancy tax funding if the town decides to discontinue funding the museum. Or, Olesheski said, they could find other ways to raise money. Olesheski angered many in the room when he told museum board members that he found it hard to believe that loss of the town’s funding would mean the museum would possibly collapse.
“Collapse is not only possible,” Miner responded. “Collapse is probable without the town’s support.”
Resident Dave Bulmer also took issue with Olesheski’s comments.
“We can’t turn our back on our history,” Bulmer said. “Peter’s comments are unfortunate. We should put together a committee to …(find a solution to this situation). We shouldn’t make such strident comments.”
Councilman Gene Arsenault agreed, saying now was not the time to turn the town’s back on a group of volunteers that has contributed so much to the town.
“You all should be commended for what you’ve done,” Arsenault said. “We should be saying how can we come together to make this work?”
Vanselow stressed that this was just the beginning of the conversation and that no decisions had been made regarding the budget or funding for the museum.
“I will continue discussions to see how we can do this legally,” Vanselow said. “This is the start of a conversation. …There is a lot of passion, a lot of emotion. …This is the beginning. There will be more.”