By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Heritage Center may receive a desperately needed cash infusion soon from the H. Earl Clack Museum Board.
During a meeting Monday night, the museum board gave its preliminary approval to a document transferring $50,000 to the Clack Foundation's endowment fund, county museum board chair Ron VandenBoom said.
The money would help ease the financial woes that have plagued the Heritage Center in recent years. The Clack Foundation is responsible for maintaining the center, which is owned by the city. The group has said that it does not have the resources to continue to manage the center, which is plagued by high utility costs and needs expensive repairs. The building contains the county's H. Earl Clack Museum and art gallery and private office space.
The money is from an endowment fund that was willed to the county museum by a member of the Clack family, VandenBoom said.
The transfer of money would increase the Clack Foundation's own endowment to more than $250,000, which, according to Clack Foundation bylaws, would allow the foundation to begin tapping interest income from its endowment for operating expenses for the Heritage Center.
The city has owned the Heritage Center since 1996, when it was purchased from the U.S. Postal Service for $150,000. The same year the Clack Foundation became responsible for the lease. The foundation's five-year lease ran out in August 2001, but under its current "tenancy-at-will" agreement with the city, the foundation can continue to use the building until the city asks it to leave.
The foundation board has threatened to return the building to the city if more help from local governments is not forthcoming. The move could have forced the museum to find a new home, foundation board members have said.
Foundation vice president Elaine Morse attended Monday's meeting and proposed several minor changes to the document, which was drafted by the county attorney. The museum board will vote to approve the transfer once the revisions are made to the document, VandenBoom said.
The vote will likely occur within 10 days, he said, adding that he believes both the musuem board and the Clack Foundation board will approve the money transfer.
"It looks good," he said. "Although it's not a done deal, it looks like it's going to go through."
The document authorizing the transfer includes a number of stipulations. They are:
By accepting the transfer, the foundation acknowleges that the museum board, a county entity, remains the owner of the $50,000.
The County Commission and the county attorney will be responsible for making the tansfer.
The museum board can specify how the money is invested - a stipulation that is not likely to be used.
"There's very little chance we will exercise that clause," VandenBoom said. "No one on our board is an investment counselor or a broker but there may be a time in our future when we have someone in that capacity."
The museum board can ask that the money be returned at any time following a vote and written notice to the foundation. The foundation has 90 days to comply.
In case of dissolution or bankruptcy, the foundation would return the money to the museum board.
The transfer would provide a measure of stability for the Heritage Center, which for months has faced an uncertain future, said VandenBoom.
"I can't speak for the other board members, but I am very pleased," he said. "This is a giant step."
VandenBoom's wife, Debe, is employed by the Clack Foundation as building manager of the Heritage Center.
Another positive aspect of the transfer is that the museum board's budget will increase, he said. The transfer would absolve the board of its pledge to give the foundation $500 a month to help maintain the Heritage Center. The board made the pledge after the foundation approached the county about providing cash assistance for the building.
The museum board scraped together the cash, largely at the expense of museum manager Emily Mayer, whose work hours were slashed. The board used volunteer curators to keep the museum open during summer hours.
The extra $6,000 a year is a significant amount of money for an organization that has an annual budget of $34,000, VandenBoom said.
"We've got some exciting things planned for the museum, and this extra money will help us get there," he said.
The transfer must be approved by both groups. The foundation will hold a formal vote later this month accepting the transfer after the museum board approves it, Morse said.
The foundation has informally decided to accept it, she added.
"We've agreed in principle," she said.
Although the interest from the endowment fund will help the foundation maintain the Heritage Center, Morse cautioned that the money transfer is not a cure-all solution.
"It was something that needed to be done," she said. "This is not the answer. This is part of the answer."
The $50,000 from the county may be accompanied by some grant money, Morse said. One grant in particular could provide a dollar-for-dollar match up to $40,000, she added. It has not been determined whether the county money transfer will be eligible for the match, Morse added.