GENEVA – Aldermen are considering whether the city can afford to provide $45,000 or more per year to the Geneva History Museum, using revenue from the hotel motel tax.
Executive Director Terry Emma said she was heartened that city officials are considering financial support for the museum.
“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,” Emma said. “We are so grateful and excited at the prospect.”
For more than two hours at a Committee of the Whole meeting Jan. 10, a majority of aldermen reached a consensus to have staff add the expense when it does a full budget presentation at the Jan. 24 meeting.
“It doesn’t get spent if the revenues don’t come in,” City Administrator Stephanie Dawkins said.
The only external organization that gets city funding is the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, Dawkins said.
Within state statutes governing the city as a non home-rule community, Geneva gives three-fifths of its hotel motel tax to the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, about $160,000 per year, Dawkins said, which the chamber uses to promote tourism.
“The statutes are construed against the non home-rule community – they don’t give us a lot of leeway,” Dawkins said. “The hotel motel tax is limited to promote tourism and conventions, non-resident overnight visitors.”
The city uses the remaining two-fifths of the hotel motel tax, about $90,000, for tourism, such as overtime for police and public works during festivals and processing special event applications, among other tasks, Dawkins said.
First Ward Alderman Tara Burghart said other municipalities support their local museums and urged that Geneva do the same.
“I do feel like it’s a real gem for us and something unique that offers another activity in our downtown area that is really mostly focused on shopping and dining,” Burghart said. “I think as a city that relies on so much history and heritage, that they’re a really important partner in maintaining that history and heritage for us.”
Burghart listed the other communities and their financial support of their museums:
• St. Charles owns the museum building and funds it by $45,000 per year.
• The Batavia Park District owns and operates the Batavia Depot Museum.
• The city of Elgin owns its museum.
• DuPage County owns its museum.
• Elmhurst History Museum is funded as a city department.
• Naper Settlement is owned and funded by Naperville.
Fifth Ward Alderman Robert Swanson said he agreed with Burghart.
“I do believe that the history museum is an asset to the community,” Swanson said. “I know from experience, having served on the (museum) board, that they do have an annual deficit. … They are looking for sustainable help.”
Dawkins said St. Charles has 11 motels which bring in about $2 million through the hotel motel tax. Geneva has three hotels that bring in $250,000 – plus St. Charles is home rule and Geneva is not.
Fourth Ward Alderman Amy Mayer said those were bad examples and questioned whether 20% of the hotel motel tax was appropriate to give the museum.
“I don’t have enough information about this coming year’s budget to really say where I’m at with it,” Mayer said. “The museum is a great resource for residents, but I don’t think it brings people to Geneva.”
Fourth Ward Alderman Gabriel Kaven asked if staff can maintain the fund’s other objectives, if the city’s $90,000 portion from the hotel motel tax is cut in half.
“It comes down to what the amount of funding is and what the council’s priorities are,” Dawkins said.
Kaven also questioned the amount.
“I do think there should be some support, but … in my opinion, 20% of the tourism fund is definitely a lot higher than something I would be comfortable with,” Kaven said.
Second Ward Alderman Bradley Kosirog said he wanted to figure out what the city – and its taxpayers – could afford in terms of supporting the museum.
“I understand the need for this museum. I appreciate the museum being there … but we are here to take care of our own taxpayers,” Kosirog said.
Mayor Kevin Burns said the aldermen have to ask tough questions of those that ask the city for money.
“You want to make certain that organization is doing with your money what they pledged to do,” Burns said. “We have that same responsibility as a council. We do it with economic development ... we do it all the time.”
The committee also heard a request for city funding from the Geneva Center for the Arts, 321 Stevens St., Suite Q, but declined. Third Ward Alderman Becky Hruby said they should be invited to do a presentation in a year.
Also during the meeting, Burns disclosed that he has a relationship with Emma – she is his ex-wife – and asked aldermen if they thought he should not participate in the discussion.
Aldermen were silent until 1st Ward Alderman Michael Bruno said, “I have no problem with that relationship.”
While Swanson had mentioned having served on the Geneva History Museum board, he did not disclose that his wife, Mary, currently is vice president of the museum board.
“I mentioned that I had previously been on the board, I did not mention my wife was on the board,” Swanson said. “I reached out to the city attorney to opine on whether disclosure is necessary. In the future, I would disclose that. There was no intention to hide anything. I will do whatever disclosures are necessary for any further discussions.”