Editorial: Learn from history before voting for candidates
The future of the Museum of Northwest Colorado is in peril.
For the past several weeks, Paul Knowles, assistant director of the museum, has sounded the alarm that without some type of financial infusion, the museum will close its doors by June 2020. The museum isn’t bluffing. They’re operating on fumes as they burn through the last of their reserves in search of sustainable funding for operations.
Unfortunately, Moffat County didn’t give the museum a fighting chance with its 2018 and 2019 budget cuts. It’s not reasonable to ask an organization that has received government funding for more than a half-century to simply find another sustainable revenue source seemingly overnight. The county has a responsibility to give the museum a runway of at least a few years to create a new business model.
In October 2018, Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck said that the Moffat County Libraries and the museum were “invaluable community assets,” yet they remained “lower priorities” in the budgeting hierarchy. We’re not sure what to make of that message — “invaluable” and “low priority” are two very different things.
We recognize the commissioners have tough budgeting decisions to make, but we question their vision for the future of Moffat County when decisions such as these are made. Defunding one of Craig and Moffat County’s biggest economic drivers isn’t smart when the future will inevitably be less reliant on coal and more reliant on alternative revenue streams.
For decades, the museum was able to rely on mineral lease royalties that subsidized a significant portion of their operation budget, but also helped to fund the reserves they have been using since 2008. When things were good, the museum returned a portion of those mineral lease and royalties back to the county — as much as 20% every year for several years for a total of at least $200,000. That funding source has since dried up, but were it not for responsible management at the museum who saved those funds while they were there, the museum might be closed today.
At a recent Coffee & a Newspaper hosted by the Craig Press, concerned citizens suggested the museum set up booths at farmers markets and create better signage in town aimed at luring potential customers to the museum. These things might help the museum in the short term, but we implore citizens and local government officials to recognize simply getting more patrons to the museum doesn’t pay the long-term costs of operating one of Craig and Moffat County’s biggest economic drivers. Even if every patron paid $10 per person, at an average of 12,000 visitors per year, that’s about 25% of the museum’s normal budget. History has taught this community many things through our museum. Therefore, the museum knows from history that creating an admission charge will impact attendance up to 50%, so simple math makes it clear this, too, can not be the only sustainable funding solution.
Many voters said that they didn’t support the mill levy question that appeared on last year’s ballot seeking $1.1 million in funding for the library and museum because they were angry at county commissioners for defunding both. Some voters felt like county commissioners were bluffing and could simply fund our museum and libraries with existing tax dollars. But commissioners weren’t bluffing and proved they’re willing to sacrifice this community’s heritage — our history — under the guise of fiscal responsibility. That doesn’t reflect well on our community in the eyes of prospective employers or workers and their families. And while donations to the museum have been up this year, they represent more than $40,000 earmarked specifically for operations, which is about 11% of the necessary funds to keep the museum open.
We urge our community to be concerned about losing our museum. It is a place that preserves our heritage and culture — the only local organization whose extensive research capabilities can connect us to our Northwest Colorado past. It’s a place of education that helps outsiders understand who we are and what we stand for and that bridges the gap between East and West. It represents an important economic driver in our community, but above all, it represents our “community.”
Budget season is upon us. Concerned citizens should voice their opinions about our museum to county commissioners and city councilors. Election season is also upon us, so don’t elect political leaders who don’t share our values or see the importance of preserving the entities that inform us, educate us, and make us stronger as a community.