Originally Published: June 13, 2012 12:01 a.m.
PRESCOTT - It may be Arizona's centennial, but the most important repository of the territorial capital's history is having a tough year.
Citing years of state budget cuts, increasing costs and lower donations because of the lagging economy, Sharlot Hall Museum officials say they will cut staff members' hours and benefits.
Fewer festivals and increased gate prices could be next, Director John Langellier said.
It's the first time in more than a decade the museum has laid off an existing staff member, Langellier said.
"The shortfall finally caught up with us, just like a lot of other places," Board of Trustees President Neil Thomas said. "It's a sad, sad situation.
"It's not the death of the museum, but if we did this much longer, it could be."
The museum has been using donations to cover state budget cuts for years, but now the museum has run out of reserves and it's $175,000 in the hole, Langellier said.
So at the start of its fiscal year July 1, museum officials plan to eliminate the half-time position of Development Strategist Boo Nicholson and turn three other full-time positions into 32-hour jobs without benefits.
The museum's Curator of Education Jody Drake - a 2007 winner of the state's Culture Keeper Award who has created numerous historic plays as a founder of the Blue Rose Theater and performed as Sharlot Hall for nearly two decades - is among the employees who will lose hours and all their benefits such as health insurance. Others are education assistant Gayle Yungman and graphics designer Barbara Rogers.
The museum still needs to cut another $50,000 in expenses by October, so events such as the Prescott Indian Art Market or the folk arts and music festivals could be the next to go, Langellier said.
Two events already moved elsewhere in recent years because they were losing money for the museum - the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering and the Day of the Dead Celebration - and a library book festival ended, Langellier said.
The museum has set up a strategic planning committee to work on a plan to help get the museum back on its feet, Langellier said.
"We want to do more than survive," he said. "We want to be vital."
Langellier, the museum's finance committee and its executive committee all agreed on the employee cuts during closed meetings.
While the full board of trustees won't vote on the cuts until its public meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, June 21, in the museum library, half of the board members already voted and he doesn't know what else they could do, Langellier said.
"The board still has the option to say no, but there's virtually no other recourse," he said.
Directly after the June 21 board meeting, the museum's annual membership meeting takes place at 5 p.m. on the sprawling museum grounds at Gurley and McCormick streets.
Community members will take a look at the site of the museum's new $900,000 trades building (aka museum support center) where the museum broke ground on Monday. That same day was the 84th anniversary of the first visitor to the museum that former territorial historian Sharlot Hall created in the territory's first governor's mansion built in 1864. Several other historic buildings have been moved to the grounds in subsequent years, including the 1875 home of Territorial Gov. John Fremont, the 1877 Bashford House and the 1863 log structure dubbed Fort Misery.
Thomas said he's concerned that people will think the museum is expanding on the backs of its employees. The donations for the new trades building can be used only to build that structure, he and Langellier explained. The donations were part of a 10-year-old capital campaign that also produced the new library and archives.
The new building will help the museum during this time of shortfalls because employees can use its workshop to build exhibits and make repairs onsite, Langellier said.
History of cuts
The state government has cut an average of one position per year from the museum's Prescott Historical Society budget during four of the five years he has been director, Langellier said. The coming fiscal year has the same budget as the current year. The museum now has 10 state government employees.
The Legislature also swept a half-million dollars a few years ago that it already had appropriated for the new trades building.
The museum is unusual in that it also has a nonprofit private Sharlot Hall Historical Society that takes in donations and supports the museum. Some employees are state employees while others are Sharlot Hall Historical Society employees.
So the museum has been using donation reserves to keep the positions such as Curator of Education in place after the state cut them, including their benefits.
With the new cuts, all 14 of the nonprofit employees will be part-time workers without benefits, Langellier said. The museum can't cut its state employees or their hours and benefits, he said.
It's sad all this is happening during the state's centennial year, Langellier and Thomas said.
"It's the jewel in the crown of Prescott," Thomas said of the museum.