Waukesha County Museum doesn't receive extra financial support from county board

Chris Kuhagen
The Waukesha County Museum is housed inside the old Waukesha County Courthouse building in downtown Waukesha. The museum has received $150,000 from the county, half of what it was given this year.
Published on: 11/14/2013

Over the last few months, Waukesha County Museum officials made their pitch for more funding.

But the Waukesha County Board stood by Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas' original proposed budget of only funding $150,000 to the museum for 2014.

At the recommendation of the Finance Committee, a $47,000 increase to the museum's portion of the operating budget was up for approval.

However, in a 13-8 vote, the board denied more funding.

"It's devastating," said Tom Constable, museum board chairman.

Even if the increase would have been approved, Constable said it was likely the county executive's office would have then vetoed the budget.

Since the county denied the $47,000 addition, the museum won't immediately get a $50,000 grant from an anonymous donor that was posed as a challenge grant to the county.  

However, Constable said Thursday the donor will now challenge the museum with the same grant, meaning that if it can raise $50,000 the donor will give the museum that same amount.

"We're hoping to raise that money by the end of the year," Constable said. 

Even so, the museum would still be short of the $300,000 it received from the county last year.

That's why County Board Supervisor Duane Paulson had made the recommendation to the Finance Committee last week that more money be allocated to the museum.

The item moved to the board level on Tuesday after a slim 4-3 approval by the Finance Committee. 

The issue of funding the museum has taken center stage the last few months. Former museum chief executive officer Kirsten Lee Villegas had pleaded with the board in August that the museum receive the same amount of money as it did in the 2013 budget. 

Villegas resigned in late September and interim CEO Dan Finley expressed the same opinion that the museum needed more financial support from the county.

Nevertheless, Finley, who is volunteering as the museum's leader, still has presented some clear ideas for helping the museum. One is tearing down the old jail in the back of the museum to add a small parking lot.  

Moreover, amid its financial troubles, the museum recently cut its full-time archivist position. And with an already small staff of only four full-time members and two part-time positions, Constable said eliminating anymore would have major consequences on the museum's operations.   

"I don’t think we can cut another position," Constable said. "If we do, we would shut something down and it would have a dramatic impact on the museum. We'll find other ways to succeed and we will."  

In the meantime, the museum board recently reaffirmed its commitment to stay at the old county courthouse building in downtown, ending any discussions that the museum would move closer to I-94 or consolidate into the Waukesha Public Library, as Mayor Jeff Scrima previously suggested.

Constable, with Finley leading the way until a permanent CEO is found, said the museum will move forward.

"I’m very confident that we will succeed," Constable said.