MONROE -- The fate of the Monroe County Historical Museum hinges on the success of a millage request voters will consider on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot, county officials say.
The countywide 0.1-mill tax would keep the museum, at 126 S. Monroe St., open by generating $569,000 a year for the next 10 years. The annual cost to the owner of a home with a $50,000 taxable value would be $5.
The museum is to close Aug. 15 if voters reject the tax. LaMar Frederick, chairman of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, said the extensive collection of artifacts would be preserved but would be unavailable to the public and researchers.
"We have a Plan B, but that plan is to mothball the museum until we have a better economy or the money to reopen it," Mr. Frederick said.
He said the strapped county has been focusing its dwindling resources on public services such as law enforcement.
Monroe County has been hit hard in recent years by declining revenue and cuts in state funding. The commissioners in turn have reduced funding for the museum, which is down to two full-time employees, an archivist, and secretary. Five years ago, it had five full-time employees and several part-timers.
The director lost his job to the cuts last year. The museum, which also operates the Navarre-Anderson Trading Post in Raisinville Township and the Martha Barker Country Store, has reduced its hours of operation.
Bonnie Doster, a volunteer at the museum and supporter of the levy, said its closure would be a tragedy. The museum's Custer exhibit has more artifacts of Gen. George Armstrong Custer than any other collection, she said. Monroe is considered General Custer's hometown even though he was not born there.
Ms. Doster said the museum draws visitors come from all over the world.
"We had a Polish couple in a few weeks ago who were interested in Custer. They came to Monroe just to see the museum and to see the Custer exhibit. … They were going on to Chicago and then the Custer [Little Bighorn] Battlefield," she recounted.
Other recent foreign visitors included a Montreal couple researching ancestors they believed had settled in the Monroe area. "We have a lot of people come in to use the genealogy room," Ms. Doster said.
Mr. Frederick said passage of the levy would ensure a bare-bones level of funding. "We can operate the museum for under $500,000 a year. That would leave a little money for repairs and perhaps adding to the collection," he said.
With a reliable revenue stream from the levy, Mr. Frederick said, the plan would be to hire a modestly paid curator who could apply for grants.
If the levy fails, "we're not going to sell off any part of the collection," he said, although parts of it could be put on long-term loan to other museums. "We have stuff no one else has."