Van Buren Township Supervisor Paul White addressed the City of Belleville Downtown Development Authority at the beginning of the DDA’s regular meeting June 15, to ask the group to donate more money to the museum.
The Belleville Area Museum is located in a township building on township property in the City of Belleville. It was supported by VBT, Belleville, and Sumpter Township until March 1998, when Sumpter cut the museum from its budget because of financial problems.
The current museum budget of $87,550 has been supported with $32,000 from VBT and $32,000 from the City of Belleville and its DDA. The Historical Society raised another $23,550.
This new budget year, Belleville has reduced its contribution by $22,000, earmarking just $10,000. The DDA, which usually helps the city meet its allocation, put nothing in its budget for the museum.
“I think it’s imperative for both communities to keep cultural activities going,” Supervisor White said to the DDA. “I would ask the DDA to reconsider.”
White said because the museum is located within the City of Belleville, it’s more beneficial to the city than to the residents of VBT because it draws visitors and shoppers to town.
DDA vice chairman John Hoops, who was presiding at the meeting, said that coordinator Carol Thompson sent out forms to groups that were seeking money from the DDA and the museum didn’t request any money.
“We looked at it and decided we couldn’t do it because of funds,” Hoops said.
The DDA agreed to put the museum on the agenda later in the meeting for further discussion.
When the issue came up for discussion, White explained that Museum Director Diane Wilson is retiring July 1 and she is an employee of the township and VBT is obligated to pay retiree health care of $10,000 a year.
White said this makes VBT’s contribution $42,000, a 33% increase.
White said he is looking at replacing Wilson with Katie Dallos, an intern with a degree in historical preservation.
“I would ask the DDA to up their donation to the $22,000 level, where it was,” White said, adding that the arts and culture of the community is very important.
“We’re in this together,” White said.
Hoops noted there was no formal request from the museum for funds.
DDA member Gary Snarski asked how many people come through the museum in a year and Historical Society member John Juriga from the audience said 5,000.
Snarski said he would like to see the lists of numbers.
Snarski noted that Van Buren Township is ten times the size of Belleville and has a lot more money.
“I like the museum … but it doesn’t seem proportional for Belleville to pay the same as Van Buren Township,” Snarski said.
He said the DDA gave bricks to the museum last year during the streetscape construction that made $8,000 for them.
Snarski said he would like to have the museum consider going to a part-time director, since it is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and not 9 to 5 anyway.
“We will work together to keep the same level of services,” White said. He said the volunteers raised $24,000 for the 2010 budget.
Snarski said Sumpter doesn’t contribute at this point.
“Arts and culture are a proven economic builder …” said DDA member Ken Voigt. “If we lose that asset to the downtown, we’ll never get it back.
“Health insurance was an agreement with the township. The city had no say,” Voigt pointed out. “We should examine this issue and not be flippant and say we can’t.”
White said the intern being considered for the job is an “ambitious, energetic young lady.”
Voigt suggested a committee made up of representatives from the city council and the city manager meet together with township representatives to consider the museum and the committee may be able to pare down the program to save money.
“If you’re asking the city to pony up, the city and DDA should have input,” Voigt said.
“Now is the time to look at it,” Voigt said. “Get a group from the township and city together. Tear it down on paper and rebuild it.”
“If that’s an employee of the township, it would be up to the township on how the position would be filled,” White responded.
DDA members dropped their jaws in disbelief at White’s comment.
“If we’re going to be 50/50 partners, we should have a say,” Snarski said.
Juriga said VBT fixed the building and put in new windows and DDA members responded that VBT owns the building.
“I donated an air conditioner,” White stated.
Snarski said White is talking about the budget and is asking for a partnership.
Snarski said the partnership is of Belleville, Van Buren Township, and the Historical Society.
“If we’re not going to have input…” Snarski said.
City Councilwoman Kim Tindall said to White from the audience, “You do all the supervision and make all the decisions … I’m not fully willing to write a check … the city has zero say in anything to do with the museum.
“Personally, I got nothing from the museum. It’s open 10-4 and I have a job. Nobody cares about my opinions…”
“I am open to anyone who wants to sit down and have a discussion,” White replied.
“I don’t only want me to sit down … this city…” Tindall responded.
“I’ve talked to the Historical Society and two of them were city residents,” White said.
“Your three minutes are up,” Voigt joked, referring to White’s limit for public comment at his VBT meetings.
“Tell them we may want a say,” Snarsky continued.
Planning Commission Chairman Steve Jones suggested setting up a controlling board or consortium for the museum.
“Do you want to take the job of employers … retirement, etc.?” asked Mayor Pro Tem Rick Dawson.
“I just asked to sit down and it became a consortium. That was never my idea,” Voigt said.
Voigt said these are taxpayer dollars and, “What’s it going to hurt to sit down and study and make a recommendation?”
“I have to make a decision on the director in the next couple of weeks,” White said. “I have to have one person responsible for the museum.”
White said he was open to any residents coming to his office to discuss anything.
Jones said it seemed like it was a last-minute thing needing a director.
White said he received the resignation letter from Wilson the first week in June.
Juriga said that a rookie costs less.
Snarski said the museum knew the DDA’s policy and put forward no requests.
“Our budget just passed and that wasn’t on it,” Snarski said.
“Last year the DDA said we do not wish to support the museum, so we didn’t ask this year,” said Belleville City Manager Diana Kollmeyer.
The DDA agreed to put the subject of the museum on its July 20 agenda.
Letter to editor
When accounts payable was up for discussion, which included approval of a $5,000 check to the Belleville Area Council for the Arts for Music Lakeside, Snarski held up the June 9 issue of the Independent.
He referred to a letter to the editor from arts council president Kay Atkins that said, “Because we receive no local, state, or federal funding, we must raise money for the program every way we can…”
Snarski said the DDA has been bashed and Atkins had wanted the DDA to be dissolved. He said he looked into it and found the DDA has given the arts council $30,000 in the last four years.
Jones and Tindall, both members of the arts council, tried to explain what Atkins might have meant. Tindall said, “Funding is not the same as donation.”
DDA member Voigt, also an arts council member, conceded, “I wouldn’t have written that.” He said the arts council does received project-specific donations.
Snarski continued, “We gave $3,000 for Art O Rama,” referring to the upcoming Artaffair on Main.
Jones said that the DDA is thanked weekly at the Music Lakeside events and the DDA’s name is displayed on a banner. They are named on the website.
“We need a retraction,” Snarski said.
“I say we get funding from the DDA,” Voigt stated.
The vote to approve the $30,722.57 in accounts payable passed 6-1 with Snarski voting no. Kerreen Conley and Michael Colletta were absent and excused from the meeting.
In other business at the June 15 meeting, the DDA:
• Opened the only competitive bid submitted for the Gateway sign for $29,700 from Davenport Construction, and then voted to accept the bid. The work had been estimated at $39,000 total, including the metal fabrication from Tom Tinsley at Contract Welding (less than $4,500). This puts the project at a total of $34,200;
• Passed a resolution to dedicate the Gateway Sign to the late Chesley Odom, who designed the sign, and passed the resolution on to the city council for action;
• Approved the recommendation of the Marketing Committee to no longer pay Mainstreet Computers for web optimization ($350 per month x 6 months) and just pay for web hosting, a $300 annual fee. Snarski said the DDA hasn’t been pleased with the optimization results. Also, the DDA approved launching a Buy It in Belleville/Facebook page and paying graphic designer Jae Edwards a $245 one-time fee to design the page;
• Heard an update from Dave Vallier of Spicer Engineers on the streetscape work, side streets, and Five Points. He said the north side of Second and Third streets will be done after Strawberry Festival, with a Tuesday concrete pour and two-to-three-day cure;
• Discussed the Buy a Brick program and said engraved bricks in the streetscape would be $50 each and go up to $75 as of July 1, 2012. Other engraved bricks are: Veterans Memorial, $100; Angel of Hope, $100; Museum, $50 (may go up to $60). Cost to the city of engraving a brick is $25 per brick;
• Heard Snarski announce that Sweet Chateau coffee shop has just signed a lease with him for the Century 21 building and her cupcakes are outstanding. “I have never tasted a cupcake that good,” Snarski said; and
• Heard City Manager Kollmeyer say that the city has to include start and stop dates on the contracts with contractors and the city council will be taking that up.