TIFFIN — During the Seneca County Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday morning, the board heard a proposal from the Barnes-Deinzer Seneca County Museum Foundation that could solidify the museum’s long-term sustainability.
The proposal, which was not solicited for, was received by each of the commissioners in late June.
Foundation officials said they submitted the ideas because the museum is currently closed due to the financial issues brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, and they hope to stop that from occurring in the future.
Board President Mike Kerschner said he was intrigued by the foundation’s proposal. “Every time there is a financial hiccup in the county’s budget, one of the first departments to be affected is always the museum,” he said.
Kerschner said the board greatly values the county’s history. “We must find a way to consistently offer the museum’s services, even when faced with a difficult economic climate,” he said.
According to the proposal, the foundation has played an important role in running the museum. The organization has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for improvements in that time.
Some of those projects include about $100,000 for conservation and restoration of paintings, about $27,000 for repair and maintenance to windows and shutters and $30,000 to the restoration of the museum’s side porch. Foundation officials argue that the nonprofit organization would lend consistent and stable private funding to the museum through its trust funds, which have more than $1 million in them.
Much of the foundation’s funding is restricted, as the organization runs off investment interest and dividends, leading to a consistent funding source long-term. The foundation’s proposal states that the county would still pay for utilities and maintenance, while the foundation would fund and be responsible for all other operational functions.
Under the proposal, the county would lease the building to the foundation for $1 a year. On Thursday, the commissioners said they would take some time to consider the proposal, but they hope to come to a decision soon.
Not only could the deal help solidify the future of the museum, but it also could relieve some financial pressure for the county and its taxpayers. The Seneca County Museum is the only fully-funded, county-owned museum in the state of Ohio.
The museum building was donated to the county in 1942. According to an opinion from the Seneca County Prosecutor’s Office, there are no restrictions that would affect the county’s ability to “sell the building.”
Commissioner Anthony Paradiso said selling the building is not in the plans for the county. “In the interest of long-term sustainability and reducing the burden to the county budget, I am intrigued by this offer,” he said.
Kerschner said the museum has cost the county about $250,000 to run over the past four years. Under the new proposal, it is likely the cost would be about $12,500 annually to the county.
“When times are difficult financially and we are cutting millions from the budget, it doesn’t make sense to keep the museum open instead of buying new cruisers, bulletproofs vests or providing the necessary training to our sheriff’s office deputies,” Paradiso said.
Regardless of what decision is made on the future of the museum, the commissioners thanked Tonia Hoffert and all the volunteers who have made the museum into a special place in the community.
“We hope that no matter what, this group of community-minded individuals will continue to work together to help accomplish our common goal: to make the museum as good as it can be,” Paradiso said.
Under the foundation’s proposal, the commissioners would cede some control over operations at the museum.
“Although it isn’t ideal, we have to get creative to keep the museum from closing for financial reasons,” Kerschner said. “To avoid this, we may have to consider trading some control, to ensure that our children and grandchildren can still experience our community’s storied history at the Seneca County Museum.”
Commissioner Shayne Thomas stressed the importance of considering all options at the museum so the board can best serve the needs of taxpayers. He said it is important to define a clear and fair process moving forward.
Thomas suggested the commissioners request proposals from any other organizations that are interested in operating the museum. He also said he believes the board needs to set parameters under which the museum should be operated in the future.
Historical society member and long-time museum volunteer Mark Steinmetz asked the commissioners to meet with the society to discuss options moving forward, and the commissioners agreed to hear out all parties before making any decisions.