GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Hall County Board members set up a special committee Monday that has a single purpose: to reduce Stuhr Museum’s reliance on property taxes.
The museum received $925,00 in property tax support in 2009, $860,000 in property tax support in 2010 and 2011, but was reduced to $850,000 this year, with $10,000 of that coming from lodging tax instead of property taxes.
It was the first such shift in funding revenue since a public vote in 1960 authorized property taxes be used for the living history museum.
“At some point we need to get them down (in property taxes) because we need those dollars in a hundred other places,” said County Board member Steve Schuppan. “I’m talking about important places: roads, law enforcement — essential services.”
Schuppan made a motion to cut Stuhr’s funding by $100,000 for the 2012-2013 budget year that begins July 1, but none of the other five board members present at Monday’s special budget meeting seconded the idea. Hall County Board Chairwoman Pam Lancaster was absent from the budget meeting as she was returning from Washington, D.C., Monday with veterans on an Honor Flight trip.
Board member Bob McFarland, who serves as a liaison to the museum operating board, said a 16 percent cut in funding all at once was simply too severe.
Board member Gary Quandt wanted to pursue a lodging tax for the museum, which could bump out another recipient of the same tax.
“I think that we are already at the max for lodging taxes,” said Renee Seifert, director of the Grand Island/Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Counties are statutorily allowed to assess two lodging taxes: a 2 percent visitor promotion fund, which funds the CVB, and a 2 percent visitor improvement fund, which must be used for brick-and-mortar projects. The improvement fund was and is used for the Heartland Events Center and Nebraska State Fair buildings.
Each 2 percent tax raises about $300,000 a year.
The CVB’s portion of the lodging tax is where the $10,000 funding shift to Stuhr happened this year. Quandt wants to pursue more of the same.
To that end, the County Board directed its audit committee — Lancaster, board member Dan Purdy and Schuppan — to meet with museum officials and McFarland as museum liaison and CVB officials to work out a new funding formula for the museum. The new formula is to be presented to the County Board at a July 16 budget meeting with the outside agencies it funds, such as Stuhr, the CVB, the airport, rural fire districts and the Hall County Fair.
McFarland said the museum has been working on other fundraisers on its own.