City considering cutting City Museum to balance budget

Closing museum could save city almost a quarter of a million dollars

With a need to find nearly $2 million to balance the budget for the 2018 Fiscal Year, the City and Borough of Juneau is considering closing facilities around town, including the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, Mount Jumbo Gym, the Eagle Valley Center and more.

 

Mount Jumbo Gym is a facility that formerly housed the Douglas High School, and the Eagle Valley Center is an outdoor excursion center.

City Manager Rorie Watt brought up the list of possible cuts this week, using CBJ’s Priority-Driven Budget (PDB) process as reasoning for the cuts. During the PDB process, where 90 locals ranked various services throughout town, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum ranked at the bottom.

“The reason it scored the lowest is, compared to other facilities, it serves fewer Juneau citizens and there is an available alternative in the brand-new State Museum,” Watt said Friday. “Granted, the State Museum doesn’t focus on local Juneau history and culture.”

This style of budget prioritization, which consisted of running focus groups and having CBJ residents rank the services around town, has not been used in Juneau before but is a widely used technique elsewhere, Watt said. The Jensen-Olson Arboretum is also low on that list. If the Arboretum were cut from the city's budget, it would go up for sale. Arboretum Director Merrill Jensen said it's unclear whether the Arboretum would be able to keep operating.

Those at the museum were notified about these proposed cuts at a Tuesday afternoon meeting, City Museum Director Jane Lindsay said. Lindsay, who has been at the museum for 15 years, said this is the first time she’s seen this kind of a proposal.

“Certainly it’s not a good feeling to hear something like that,” Lindsay said. “We work very hard to do the best job we can, to present local history.”

The museum recently has raised $72,000 from grants and the community to buy exhibit cases, and those at the museum are excited about new exhibits and the upcoming summer season. The museum’s 2016 Economic Impact Statement stated that 80 percent of the museum’s visitors come during the summer, and that about 17,000 people visit the museum every year.

Lindsay said she and her employees are aware of how difficult it is to reach the museum itself and how small it is, but they’ve made efforts in recent years to become what she calls a “museum without walls.” The museum curates more than 85,000 Juneau artifacts between the museum itself, local libraries, the Last Chance Mining Museum and elsewhere. It also has put a great deal of work into its website, which earned 24,000 web hits this year.

The Friends of the City Museum organization and others have already begun to express their support for the organization, Lindsay said.

“There’s definitely other groups that have been coming to me,” Lindsay said, “asking for more information or how they can help by sending letters of support to the Assembly or talking to the Assembly about this proposal.”

The budgeting process is far from over, however. The CBJ Assembly Finance Committee briefly discussed the list of priorities this week, and committee chair Jesse Kiehl and Finance Director Bob Bartholomew will now work together in discussing the next step.

Going into this budgetary process, the city faces a $1.9 million shortfall. Bartholomew has proposed taking $1.4 million from the city’s fund balance and reducing spending by $500,000. The Assembly Finance Committee meets every Wednesday through May 14 to figure out solutions to this issue.

Cutting the City Museum could end up netting the city $228,500 in reductions, according to a CBJ handout. Getting the Arboretum off the books could save the city nearly $75,000.

There are numerous other options in shaving costs, from cutting down on landscaping costs to having shorter hours for the Treadwell Ice Arena. Watt went through the PDB results and deemed that some services that ranked lowly on that list – such as the park ranger program, some aquatics programs and some youth programming – should be immune from budget cuts. The ranger program, for example, maintains campgrounds that are key to the community.

Basically, the PDB process is not there to make decisions for the Assembly, but it’s in place to advise the Assembly. Watt said he was merely presenting the findings of that process to the Finance Committee this week, and that no decisions have been made yet.

“I’m not saying it’s my priority to close the museum,” Watt said. “It’s my priority to do two things. It’s my priority that everything that the city does, we run well and we give adequate resources and we staff adequately and … we provide good programs.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that if the Arboretum were cut from the budget, it would be returned to the family who donated it. If the Arboretum were cut from the budget, it would go up for sale. The Empire regrets the error.


 

Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com or 523-2271.

 


 

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