Museums could close doors if county cuts budget

After decades of showcasing the history of Nye County and the state of Nevada to visitors from all over the world, officials at Pahrump and Tonopah museums are worried that the county’s financial straits will take away their funding.

As Nye County is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $400,000, the County Commissioners is considering eliminating and capturing existing budgets of Pahrump Valley Museum and Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah to alleviate the county’s financial crisis.

County Manager Pam Webster said tax rate funding for Pahrump Valley Museum and Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah are among three items that are currently being reviewed by the district’s attorney for potential budget cuts. The other two include the tax rate for health clinics and the tax rate for University of Nevada Reno Cooperative Extension.

“So the district attorney is looking into whether or not that can be done during a tax year or if it has to be done the following year or how it’s done,” Webster said. “This is similar to the look that we did when we stopped subsidizing senior nutrition and those programs. What we did originally with the (agricultural) extension was to reduce it back to what we had to tax it if we were deciding to be in the program. Now we are looking at backing out of the total program and taking that rate back to the general fund.”

“So the same thing is being done and looked at for the museums,” Webster said. “What that means is the county would no longer subsidize the museums, both of them.”

Pahrump Valley Museum and Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah are among a number of items that could save the county over $1.5 million, if eliminated. Also included in the plan were animal control, emergency management services, administration and veterans’ services.

The fiscal year 2016 budget for Pahrump Valley Museum totaled $112,446, while the budget for Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah came up to $69,431, according to Nye County records.

Marilyn Davis, Pahrump Valley Museum director said the museum’s expenses run at about $85,000 between salaries, electricity and alarms. The rest of the money goes toward the upkeep of the museum.

“Grants are hard to get, but we are trying to find some business that might want to donate and to help, if they cut all our money,” she said.

Allen Metscher, president of Central Nevada Historical Society and co-founder of Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah said due to recent budget reductions, the part-time employee and janitor no longer work at the museum as of July this year.

“This year, the budget was reduced to the point that the county could only cover about a quarter of the year’s utilities, and the county proposed to close the Central Nevada Museum at the end of September,” Metscher said in an email.

Meanwhile, officials at both museums sent out letters to communities asking for support and encouraging the public to ask the commissioners to keep museums open.

Gary Hollis, the president of the Board of Directors of Pahrump Valley Museum and Historical Society said the museum is on track to expand by another 12-14 square feet. Also in the plans are a firetruck, police car and school bus for the kids.

“That’s what we have been working on: Trying to make this a better place for the young people,” Hollis said.

“That stuff is coming and all it goes to waste,” he said. “It will just sit out here and rust until we find some money to open the museum back.”

Each town would lose a major tourist destination if the museums are be closed, Metscher said.

“Many people who are traveling through our towns stop because they see the museum,” he said. “Likewise, many people travel to Tonopah specifically to visit our museum for the research library. These visitors are renting motel rooms, purchasing gasoline and visiting our local businesses and restaurants. Without the museums, many people would not visit our towns.”

Nye County Commission Chairperson Lorinda Wichman said she has been receiving letters from people who ask to keep the museums open.

“I hope they do find another outside funding,” she said.

Currently, Wichman said the staff is looking for information, including the museums’ income that will help officials to make a decision.

“You don’t want to cut the funding for something that brings revenue,” she said.

Hollis said last year Pahrump Museum logged 6,000 visitors from the U.S. and overseas, whereas Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah saw under 4,000 guests.

“Harry Ford had kind of a little saying that ‘if you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you are going’,” said Davis, citing one of the founders of Pahrump Valley Museum.

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