Museums stretch to recoup lost city funds

By Julian J. Ramos/Staff Writer | Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2010

With less money coming in from the city, the Santa Maria Museum of Flight is looking to add events to boost its attendance and revenues.  In the current fiscal year, which began July 1, the museum will receive $15,000 from Santa Maria’s General Fund — $8,960 or 37 percent less than last year.

Despite losing funding, Museum of Flight President, Mike Geddry Sr. is confident the museum can withstand any financial trouble and will not fail for a lack of local interest.   “It could never happen,” he said this week of operating the museum without community support.

Since 1991, municipal financial support to the museum has come from the city’s General Fund —  which includes public safety, libraries, recreation and parks, and general government spending — rather than from transient occupancy tax (TOT) receipts.  Per the city code, funding for the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Santa Maria Valley Historical Society and Museum has been tied to a portion of TOT revenues.  Both entities also have seen their city contributions shrink this year, which mirrors a TOT drop of about 12 percent compared to the previous year.

Better known as the “bed tax,” the 10-percent tariff is charged to visitors as part of the cost of a hotel room.  Through June 30, 2011, the city expects to collect just over $2 million in bed tax, 12 percent less than a year earlier.  Overall, municipal contributions to outside agencies have shrunk by 6 percent — similar to departmental budget reductions across all city departments.

Unlike other museums in the city, Geddry said, the Museum of Flight has no resources such as grants and endowments to fall back on.

The museum at 3015 Airpark Drive is dedicated to collecting, developing and preserving artifacts related to the city’s aviation history.

Geddry also said he doesn’t like taking money away from the city’s General Fund that could go toward employees, and strives to give the city a return on its investment, with the philosophy of giving back $5 for every $1 given.  Instead of General Fund money, Geddry has suggested a funding switch from the General Fund to a percent of TOT receipts and working with the chamber to bring in tourism and boost TOT revenues.

The museum draws visitors from outside the state and country, Geddry said, and there are plans in the works to attract tour bus stops with overnight stays in the city. 

The annual Thunder Over the Valley air show, scheduled from Aug. 27 to 29, is the largest event at the airport, and is expected to draw up to 10,000 spectators for the weekend.  Despite significant growth in airshow attendance over the past five years or so, the event has yet to turn a profit since 2005. 

In 2009, the nonprofit museum saw about 6,000 visitors.

The historical society is also dealing with the funding cut by raising money to cover its deficit.  While grateful to the city for its years of support, the effect of the reduction has been crippling, said Richard Chenoweth, historical society director. If the group can’t narrow its deficit, hours at the museum at 616 S. Broadway could be slashed, he said.  For the year, the historical society will also receive $15,000, just like the Museum of Flight, a cut of $8,960.  The council also allocated $15,000 to the group last year instead of a small percentage of bed tax.

Fundraisers have included an “Evening with Jane Russell” program in June and the organization is selling a block of tickets for “Songs for a New World,” a Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts production next month on the Hancock College campus.  Also, members have been asked to give extra donations, and the drive has been successful,  Chenoweth said.

The Chamber of Commerce won’t see as much of a change as other agencies because its budget is in step with and adjusted according to TOT figures from the previous year, said Bob Hatch, president and CEO of the chamber.  When bed tax money goes up, its funding goes up, and accordingly it goes down when there is less, he said.  The chamber’s portion of bed tax funding is based on a formula of the original 8-percent bed tax and the additional 2 percent tax. The city gets the bulk of the first part of the bed tax, while the chamber gets a sizable share of the second part, Hatch said.

Santa Maria Administrative Services Director Rene Vise said the chamber gets 20 percent of the initial 8 percent of the TOT and the economic development contract receives 8.5 percent of the 8 percent of TOT.   Of the remaining 2 percent of the bed tax, the chamber gets 70 percent.

For the current fiscal year and the second consecutive year, the chamber also voluntarily took a funding cut, matching city department reductions in the municipal budget.  “We thought it would only be fair and reasonable that we would take that same reduction,” Hatch said.

Over the next two years, the chamber is budgeted to receive $652,210 total from bed taxes for its services to the city, including economic development services to retain and attract new businesses to Santa Maria and operation of the Visitor and Convention Bureau, which is meant to promote and increase the trade, commerce, tourism, and convention activity in the city.

A two-year extension for economic development services has been approved for $120,520 per year — a $22,410 drop from last year.   Funding for the contract also comes from the bed tax.

Hatch said the chamber also supports attractions in the city, such as museums, through its special events grant fund of about $80,000 for marketing of events that bring overnight stays to local hotels.

Posted in Local on Tuesday, July 13, 2010