Geneva History Museum poised to receive $51K in federal COVID relief funds

Terry Emma: ‘We are so grateful and excited’

The Geneva History Museum will reopen July 6.

GENEVA – The Geneva History Museum is poised to receive about $51,000 in federal COVID-19 relief money, officials said.

Geneva aldermen are expected to consider an agreement March 6 to give the funds to the museum.

Mayor Kevin Burns said a formal agreement with the museum is expected to be presented at the March 6 City Council meeting. The museum will receive federal American Rescue Plan Act money instead of a 20% share of hotel-motel tax as decided a year ago. That would give the museum more flexibility in spending because the hotel-motel tax revenue must be spent within the calendar year it is received, Burns said.

“The museum has been around since the 1940s and this is the first time we have been a part of the city’s budget discussion,” Museum Executive Director Terry Emma said. “We are so grateful and excited at the prospect.”

‘A schism’

At the Jan. 17 Committee of the Whole meeting, 3rd Ward Alderwoman Becky Hruby lobbied to include $50,000 from the city’s hotel-motel tax for the museum in the 2024 fiscal budget, which begins May 1.

Hruby sought to amend the budget to include $50,000 for the museum at the Feb. 6 City Council meeting. Aldermen voted 5-5 with Burns breaking the tie with a no vote.

In arguing against adding the museum to the budget, 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said the city should have a policy to decide how to give money to nonprofits that ask for support because two other entities also had made requests.

“Without a policy, it would be poor governance to do that,” Maladra said.

Burns described the split vote as a “schism” and Hruby’s amendment “the sudden abandonment of good governance principles.”

“The schism created at the Feb. 6 council meeting was not about the respect and appreciation we have for the museum’s work, but the sudden abandonment of good governance principles – witnessed by the attempt to codify funding beyond the current fiscal year for one organization – without a comprehensive discussion on the parameters and protocols of a funding mechanism that addresses potential requests by outside organizations in an equitable fashion,” Burns said.

Hruby disputed Burns’ characterization, saying it simply was a difference of opinion.

“I feel this is not unsound governance,” Hruby said. “It’s just a difference of opinion. Along with the ensuing debate on any agenda item, it should be respected and encouraged, not disparaged. … Five aldermen supported my motion. How is that unsound governance? That is just a difference of opinion.”

Museum agreement pending

Hruby said aldermen were told there would be an agreement between the city and museum regarding funding but had not seen anything other than a vague email.

Hruby provided a Feb. 6 email from City Administrator Stephanie Dawkins saying, “We have met with GHM and have a draft resolution [acceptable to the GHM] to bring to the City Council in the near future [likely this month] regarding this funding.”

Hruby said in a text message Sunday that she was unaware that a proposal was scheduled to come before the City Council on March 6.

“My request to put it in the budget we were approving was to put it in as a placeholder,” Hruby said. “I just wanted to secure an additional year in the budget for the history museum.”

Hruby said discussion started in November 2021 at the annual planning meeting and the consensus was to support the Geneva History Museum financially.

“In a perfect world, I’d love to have a grant program, but the city does not have the financial resources to support a grant program,” Hruby said. “It’s a waste of staff time, legal time and individual entities’ time to develop a program we can’t support.”

As to the issue of needing a policy in order to distribute funds to nongovernmental entities, Hruby said that idea came at the last planning session in November 2022, but aldermen have not seen anything proposed.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns looks forward to new business, redevelopment and investment opportunities in the city for 2021.

Burns said since the November planning session that staff created a draft agreement and sent it to the museum for review. Emma responded Jan. 3 that the museum board needed to discuss it. After a joint meeting with museum directors Jan. 26, the museum board approved the agreement to receive ARPA money, leading to a resolution for the March 6 meeting, he said.

Emma said she understood why aldermen could not just include the museum in the next fiscal budget.

The museum’s annual budget is $350,000, Emma said.

Because the museum will be getting city funding, it will have to give an annual report on how the money was used, she said.

“The problem with us is we don’t have a regular stream of money coming in,” Emma said. “We are a cultural attraction, bringing people in from all over.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the source and amount of funding the city of Geneva was allocating to the Geneva History Museum. It has been corrected to reflect that the city is considering a plan that would give about $51,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to the museum.