Board asks borough for bare-bones museum funding


April 1, 2021

The Haines Sheldon Museum board of trustees is asking the Haines Borough Assembly to fund payroll for the coming fiscal year (FY22) at a level that maintains current pandemic staffing. Under the pared-down budget, the board will delay plans to pursue separation from the borough for another year.

The museum has been operating with a skeleton crew sinceac eliminating its two full-time positions. Director Helen Alten was fired last summer and community coordinator Regi Johanos moved to Homer in the fall. Current museum staff includes collections coordinator Zack James, interim accountant Burl Sheldon, museum assistant Niall Hackett and custodian Kimothy Dorsey, all part-time employees.

Trustees are finalizing their budget request during a time of transition. The museum is quasi-governmental, staffed by borough employees and overseen by a nonprofit board, but the board has been working on a plan to separate the museum from the borough since last fall.

At a meeting Tuesday, trustees discussed five different budget permutations, including two status quo options with the museum remaining a part of the borough, two budgets reflecting cost savings if the museum were to separate from the borough, and a significantly pared-down budget without any full-time employees.

Trustees spoke in favor of the pared-down budget, which asks for $112,055 to cover payroll for 4,576 employee hours, saying they anticipate the coming year will be another lean one in terms of museum and borough revenues. Prior to the pandemic, museum payroll averaged $215,000 for 7,020 employee hours. The same number of employee hours would cost $180,000 under a reorganized museum staffed by nonprofit employees, according to budget documents.

“This is not a time to take a stand… We need to be a team player,” trustee Julie Korsmeyer said. “We have a chance to say to them with (the skeleton-crew budget) that we know what the (borough’s financial) realities are.”

Board president Kelleen Adams said in an interview Wednesday, assuming the assembly approves the request, the museum will still offer services to the community. She said with current staffing levels, the museum responds to research requests and can accommodate meetings in its spaces. She said the board is meeting on April 9 to discuss summer plans.

“The hope is that we can have our doors open in a limited capacity so visitors and residents can enjoy the exhibit that we have,” Adams said. She said she anticipates opening three days per week, but that will depend on volunteer recruitment.

At the board meeting, some trustees expressed concern that asking the assembly for reduced payroll funding could set a precedent for lower funding in future, non-pandemic years.

“We need to let the assembly know that alternatives (with more staff hours) are what we really need them to consider as we move forward,” Lorraine Dudzik said.

Adams said she thinks the assembly will understand this as a one-time request.

“The board is confident that the borough will realize the sacrifice we are making to help in these hard and difficult times,” she said. “It’s obvious the museum can’t carry on in the way it needs to with current staffing, but we realize this isn’t the time to ask for a full staff. In the future, we will need to reevaluate.”


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