Story last updated at 4:50 p.m. Thursday, August 15, 2002

Pratt Museum gets own city budget line
by Carey James
Staff Writer

After three years of competing with other Homer nonprofits for funds, the Pratt Museum was recognized by the Homer City Council as a unique entity, and the council moved to consider its funding separately in future budgets.

Councilman John Fenske, who voted against the change, said the same funding problem would remain, regardless of how the museum received city funding.

In recent years, the council began funding city nonprofits through the Homer Foundation, which decided which nonprofits would get funding and how much. The city also began dedicating a certain percentage of its total nonprofit funding to a long-term endowment through the foundation.

But Michael Hawfield, director of the museum, said the city contribution to the museum began to dwindle under the new method of funding. Last year, the museum received $60,000 in city funds, half of what it had received through at least one budget allocation.

The problem, Hawfield said, is that more and more nonprofits are competing for the city dollars through the foundation. At the same time, the museum is charged with protecting a collection of around 23,000 objects and specimens, as well as countless photographs and documents, at a cost of more than $150,000 each year.

"That's a responsibility we can't turn away from," Hawfield said. "We can't modify what we do. It's a legal issue. Once we take something in, we go through a process that legally binds us to take care of those objects. All the (museum) programs can go away, but the collections cannot."

Hawfield noted that among the collections are some of the nation's oldest Alaska Native artifacts as well as the largest collection of articulated sea mammal skeletons in the United States.

In the resolution, introduced by councilman Rick Ladd and mayor Jack Cushing, funding for the Pratt Museum would no longer be incorporated with other nonprofits. Instead, it would be considered in a manner similar to the Homer Chamber of Commerce -- as a separate line item appropriation in the budget.

Several city council members, as well as City Manager Ron Drathman, spoke against the change, however.

"I feel I'm being cast in my usual role as the Grinch, but I don't see why the Pratt should be considered differently," Drathman said, adding that the council worked hard to set up the foundation to handle nonprofit funding. "In my opinion, at this time, this would be going backwards."

Fenske noted that funding nonprofits, including the museum, through the foundation is a long-term solution to the problem and considering the museum funding separately does not solve the problem of where the actual dollars will come from. He said a better solution might be forming a service area for the museum.

"The Pratt Museum is for the southern peninsula, not just for the city," Fenske said. "Lets not dance around the issue and assume that the revenue are going to appear ..."

Councilmen Ray Kranich and Kurt Marquardt also opposed the change.

"We've heard ample testimony over the course of the last couple years in support of de-politicizing the nonprofit issue, and we worked hard to create (the foundation). Why change the process we have worked so hard to create," Marquardt said. "Let the Pratt weigh in and duke it out for limited funds."

But Cushing, Ladd, Pat Cue and Mike Yourkowski saw the issue differently, stating that the museum had a special relationship with the city as well as a special mandate to protect artifacts.

"I don't want to put down the other nonprofits, but this one is unique," Cushing said. "The community gets a tremendous return (from the museum) and I think we should do everything we can to help it this way."

The council eventually tied on the vote, with Cushing breaking the tie in favor of the museum's line-item budget allocation.

Hawfield said while he realized being placed separately on the budget would not solve the funding problem, it would at least allow the museum to communicate directly with the city about its needs and accomplishments.

"It addresses the value the Pratt provides the city, the same way the fire department provides services. To me, it's a necessary function of the city," he said.

In other news, the city noted that the Homer Volunteer Fire Department has been presented with $55,833 from the estate of Frank and Edna Irvin for training and equipment for emergency medical technicians.

Cue noted that the Beach Policy Task Force has been discussing the possibility of recommending that the beach area east of the Homer Spit be closed off to motorized vehicles. She also noted that since the new beach laws have been in place, more driftwood has been building up on Bishop's Beach.

Ken Castner, speaking as a representative of the Homer Library Building Committee, urged the council to make a decision on what site to choose for the proposed library. The committee presented council members with an analysis of several sites around town.

Though the project is still in the initial fund-raising stages, Castner pointed out that it is difficult to move forward with fund-raising plans without a definite site.

"I urge the council to do whatever we can to bring this to a speedy conclusion," Castner said.