Villegas calls for same financial support at Waukesha County Museum
Asks for $300,000 in 2014 budget, also addresses concerns from supervisors
Kirsten Lee Villegas did her best to show why the Waukesha County Museum needs to receive the same amount — $300,000 — as it has in the past from the county.
She stated her case in great detail but giving the presentation was not easy for the museum's chief executive officer.
While there were museum board members at last week's Waukesha County Board meeting who gave her their support, Villegas felt, at times, like she was on an island at the microphone as she defended her staff, the opportunities the museum provides and why eliminating funding, or most of it, would be detrimental.
And so, finally after more than 50 minutes of addressing Waukesha County Board supervisors, Villegas' emotions got the best of her.
"I don't know how long I've been answering questions but I'm getting tired," said a wiped out Villegas, who got choked up and had to stop answering questions for a brief period to gather herself after talking about how the museum is already understaffed.
But when Villegas did, she again stressed the need for county taxpayers' help.
"It's very hard for our staff to hear this kind of conversation," Villegas said. "We are doing the best job we can with a very small team to give you what you want. And that is a plan to be self sufficient.
"What we are asking for is the last phase that we need to complete (in a five-phase plan that studied many factors about the museum's future), which will take one to two years to conduct a final plan — a campaign feasibility study — to look at how we can generate private funding primarily to develop this vision."
Villegas said she had been in regular contact with County Executive Dan Vrakas regarding the studies, which have included a market feasibility study.
Supervisor Janel Brandtjen, however, said county supervisors have been left out of this conversation.
"I have always wanted to be transparent," Villegas said. "We thought we were being transparent by having primary discussions with the county executive. He sees all of our reports. We would be more than happy to have the same level of transparency with you had I known I needed to do that five years ago.
"We want you to be our partner, you are our partner, you're our most important partner and we know that and that means having transparency."
Will partnership continue?
The county has been heavily connected to the museum over the years.
From 1964 to 2002, the county paid all costs associated with museum operations. But the Waukesha County Board of Supervisors sold the 1893 old county courthouse complex to the Waukesha County Historical Society for $1 in 2002.
That dollar, Villegas said, is actually on display at the museum.
The county then signed papers in January 2003 to transfer ownership, but through a 10-year agreement, taxpayers still funded some of the museum's expenses.
Those 10 years are now up, but Villegas, who wasn't with the museum at the time of the agreement, wants the partnership to continue.
"There was no language in the agreement that the purpose is for the Waukesha County Museum to be 100 percent self sufficient after 10 years," Villegas said, while adding during this period the museum added new revenue streams, has grown educational revenue and increased programs by applying for selective grants.
She said the partnership with the county is similar to a national model.
"There are many ways to measure your return on investment," Villegas said. "You can look at numbers until the cows come home. You can look at how many people you impact and you can look at more intangible things like a smile of a child that just went through summer camp (at the museum)."
Not in favor of funding
Later this year, the county board will take a vote on whether to provide further funding in the 2014 budget, but one supervisor who won't give the museum his vote is Walter Kolb.
"The amount of money you're asking for is way overboard," Kolb said. "It boils down to priorities."
Kolb also didn't agree with the museum's payroll being at almost half of its budget.
Villegas said that percentage amount is normal for museums across the country.
County Board Supervisor James Heinrich then asked Villegas what would happen if the board gave the museum $150,000, half of what it asked for.
"I hope that wouldn't be the case, because I think one of the things this group of individuals need to determine is what would the cost of not having a museum like ours be," Villegas said. "What would the opportunity costs to not have the Les Paul exhibit attract Harley-Davidson riders? What would happen of not having the educational component that we currently provide? The cost of not being open 12 months of the year, to not being able to partner with community partners?"
She said fundraising is 25 percent of the museum's budget.
"To make up $150,000 (for our) staff, it would be an amazing task to do that," Villegas said. "The reason we're asking for ($300,000) is we feel that would be the baseline for us to continue to operate at the level that we're at.
"I hope we wouldn't go down that road. I hope the county understands the value that is there."
No relocating yet
Villegas said part of the master study looked at the current location of the museum with one of the options being building a new museum. Supervisor Kathleen Cummings asked Villegas to clarify reports that moving from its 101 W. Main St. location closer to I-94 was a recommended option.
"We explored all options," said Villegas, who added no decision has been made. "It would be imprudent if we didn't explore all options."
But she added there are no immediate plans to leave the historical site.
"We fully intend in 2014 to remain in that building," she said. "No matter what happens, the commitment we have is to this historic building and we will make sure it is guarded and protected. We don't have any intention of abandoning that building and having it become an eyesore for the city. That's not our intention."
So looking ahead to 2014, Villegas said the planning continues.
"We are going to do the best job we can to continue to provide the best services in the building we are in," she said. "But at the same, while we're doing that day to day, we're also looking at what would it take for Waukesha County to finally have a truly top-tier 21st century, cultural and regional center."
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