Aldermen wrangle over $50K for Geneva History Museum

Amendment to FY2024 to add funding fails with Mayor Burns’ tie-breaking vote

The Geneva History Museum will reopen July 6.

GENEVA – As Geneva aldermen were ready to vote on the city’s $128.3 million fiscal 2024 budget – which begins May 1 – an alderwoman lobbied to amend the budget to include $50,000 for the Geneva History Museum.

Third Ward Alderwoman Becky Hruby proposed a budget amendment Monday to continue funding in the new fiscal year. The Geneva History Museum, 113 S. Third St., received $45,000 in the fiscal 2023 budget that was approved a year ago.

The motion to take $50,000 from the hotel-motel tax for the museum failed 6-6 with Mayor Kevin Burns casting the tiebreaking nay vote.

“I just wanted to get the history museum funding allocated for an additional year,” Hruby said.

“I think that Geneva really stands out for our historic significance and our quaint historical appeal in our town. I believe the Geneva History Museum directly embraces, enhances and promotes this historical feel,” Hruby said. “We should show our appreciation for the museum’s role in our identity and our entire community with this token of financial support.”

Hruby said the city did not need a grant program to provide funding for the museum.

“This might sound harsh, but my personal feeling is we do not need a grant program, we don’t need a process for a grant program, as no other entities have been serving our community for over 80 years as the Geneva History Museum has,” Hruby said.

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said the city needs a policy for giving money to entities that ask for it, and longevity could be one pillar such a policy would contain.

“We need a policy because this year we have been approached by three entities. We can debate the merits of each. You could say there is merits to one. I could say there’s merits to another,” Maladra said. “But without a policy, we have really no reason to back our assertions other than personal feeling.”

Maladra said he could not argue the history museum’s value to the city, but other entities could make similar arguments.

Maladra said the city has been approached by two other entities, the Geneva Center for the Arts and Mary Agnes Zellmer, who organizes races for runners in the city.

“A policy would tell us what type of organizations we choose to fund. Do they have to be 501(c)(3)s or can they be anything,” Maladra said.

A 501(c)(3) is a tax-deductible designation for a nonprofit or charity.

“A policy would tell us what type of activities we choose to fund. A policy would enable us to say, defensively, ‘Here’s why I chose to do this.’ As opposed to just saying, ‘It was the feeling of this council, at this time,’” Maladra said.

“We would be able to say, ‘Per our policy, this is a 501c3, it serves to buttress the pillar of historical heritage in our strategic plan. The funding should come from this source,’” Maladra said.

The policy would also enable us to perhaps put some limits around how much we would take from any given source.”

Maladra said they did not have consensus for a grant program or consensus to have a grant program. It was not relevant before, Maladra said, because organizations had not approached the city for support before.

Maladra said at the city’s strategic planning meeting in November, there was consensus to have staff bring them a program to study and react to.

“Why are we jumping the gun and ignoring the consensus that we developed in our own strategic planning,” Maladra said. “That puzzles me. It’s going to sound harsh, but it aggravates me. If there’s a will for some of the people on this council to insist on some sort of long-term funding for an entity – but without a policy – I think it would be poor governance for us to do that.”

In addition to Hruby voting yes were 1st Ward Alderwoman Tara Burghart, 2nd Ward Alderman Richard Marks, 3rd Ward Alderman Dean Kilburg and 5th Ward Alderman Robert Swanson.

In addition to Maladra voting no were 1st Ward Alderman Michael Bruno, 2nd Ward Alderman Bradley Kosirog, 4th Ward Aldermen Gabriel Kaven and Amy Mayer.

Burns also voted with aldermen, who were unanimous in approving the fiscal year 2024 budget.