Reichert proposes cutting money to Tubman, arts and sciences museum

pramati@macon.comMay 14, 2014 

SPLOST_MACON

The Tubman African American Museum and the Museum of Arts and Sciences might lose $250,000 subsidies.

WOODY MARSHALL — Woody Marshall

The Tubman African American Museum and the Museum of Arts and Sciences both face the loss of $250,000 subsidies from Macon-Bibb County.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert presented a preliminary budget to commissioners Tuesday that he said features significant funding reductions to city departments and outside organizations.

Officials at the two museums said the proposed cuts are bad enough, but they said learning about them just a few weeks before the end of the fiscal year could have crippling ramifications.

Andy Ambrose, the Tubman’s executive director, said the $250,000 allocation represents about 40 percent of the museum’s operating budget.

“If (the cuts) were to take place, as of now ... we would likely have to close the doors of the museum” until new sources of income were found, Ambrose said. “As of now, the funding will end at the end of the fiscal year, which is about six weeks away. We’re in a difficult position, because there’s not enough time to raise money between now and July 1.”

At the Museum of Arts and Sciences, director Susan Welsh said the $250,000 represents 20 percent of her operations. While the arts and sciences museum likely wouldn’t close if the money dries up, she said, it would cripple the level of programming offered.

“It would drastically impact us,” Welsh said. “This is the only public funding we receive. ... With no notice (of the cuts), it sets us up to fail. We only have a few weeks to scramble and figure out how we’re going to move forward with the contracts and exhibits we have in place. It will change our ability to serve the community.”

So far, the two museums are the only outside groups mentioned publicly by Reichert, though mayoral spokesman Chris Floore said Wednesday that other entities which rely on government funding also face cuts. But Floore did not provide any details of those cuts or say which groups would be impacted. Floore said that information, which was not included in the budget documents presented to commissioners and the media Tuesday, would not be made available until those groups are informed. Reichert’s proposed spending plan included a $158.7 million general fund budget.

Meanwhile, Ambrose and Welsh are scrambling to persuade commissioners to restore funding as well as come up with new strategies in case the money is not restored.

The county commission’s Operations and Finance Committee is scheduled to meet Friday morning with the city’s finance staff to review the budget and learn how decisions were made. The commission has to approve a spending plan before the July 1 start of the new budget year.

At Wednesday’s speech to all of Macon’s Rotary Clubs on Wednesday, Reichert said he is taking “draconian” measures to equalize property taxes in the next two years of residents in the former city limits and those in the former unincorporated areas of the county. The only way to reach that goal, he said, was to cut half of the old city millage rate this year and half next year, while making corresponding changes to the budget, which must be balanced. Reichert said he didn’t want to raise the millage rate on former unincorporated residents.

Floore said Reichert “had to make tough decisions across the board.”

The government was facing about $34 million more in budget requests than the $158.7 million general fund budget would allow, meaning significant cuts had to be made without harming essential services, Floore said. That meant city departments and outside agencies both saw reductions from the amount they had requested.

“We don’t want them to close their doors, and the mayor is open to talking to them some more,” Floore said. “But any changes in the budget will lead to other difficult decisions. ... I can’t express how much (the cuts) hurt on every level.”

Floore said if the $250,000 is restored to each museum, that $500,000 would have to be cut from somewhere else to keep the budget balanced.

Welsh and Ambrose said their museums provide essential educational and after-school programming not just to Macon but also to other surrounding communities.

Ambrose noted that for six years, the Tubman has worked with disadvantaged students at L.H. Williams Elementary School, offering programs that aren’t available anywhere else.

Any budget cut would not affect the new Tubman museum under construction on Cherry Street. That project is being built with sales tax proceeds, which is separate from the city’s general fund dollars. However, Ambrose said, it could delay the museum’s opening, which is projected for next spring.

“What the funding enables us to do is to have the broad range of educational programs we provide to the community,” he said.

Welsh said her museum receives about 70,000 visitors per year from 120 Georgia counties. She said the museum was finally recovering from $100,000 in cuts Macon and Bibb County made in fiscal 2010.

“With public funding, we meet the need for the region’s most dynamic programming,” she said. “It impacts our ability to address regular challenges.”

Floore said Reichert hopes the community will step in and help the museums and other organizations facing cuts.

“The more we send out (to outside agencies), the less we have for core services,” Floore said. “The same comments we’re getting from external agencies, we’re also getting from our own departments.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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