The Washington County Board met Tuesday and voted unanimously to lease the Old County Courthouse to the History Center Washington County for one more year.
The county allows the History Center to lease the building for free. The county also covers all the utilities and maintenance for the building and grounds which adds up to about $150,000 a year. On top of that the county provides $140,000 in funding for operation costs.
Two supervisors on the County Board including Dist. 4 Supervisor Mike Miller and Dist. 15 Supervisor Marilyn Merten were completely in favor of protecting the History Center no matter what.
Others, including Dist. 3 County Board Supervisor Christopher Bossert, said he had some concerns about attendance and felt the History Center needs to be more active.
Bossert’s comments are posted below.
We are doing our due diligence when we review any program that receives county funds. We should be reviewing these agencies regularly, especially under-performing programs like the history center, that’s what we have been elected to do. We should never be rubber-stamping anything.
But we also need to be mindful of the commitments previous boards have made. Through these commitments, the public has seen safety and security in donating land, money, and property to programs like the history center.
Over the last few months, this board has started to question some of these commitments. In doing so, we have gained a reputation among many in the community as a board that is out of touch with the community related to quality of life issues. This reputation started with a proposal to sell our golf course, and has gained strength through proposals to put fees on county parks. As we review the history center over the next year, we need to act prudently and careful to preserve the history center while improving its value.
To the History Center, I share these thoughts. I have visited many very vibrant historical museums and centers including:
*Waukesha’s Historical Society, which had about 75-100 visitors while I was there.
*Ozaukee County’s Pioneer Village, several times on previous Labor Day weekends over the years, which often saw hundreds of visitors each day.
*Kenosha’s Museum of History, which had at least 50 visitors while I was there on a cold January day.
*Several other very vibrant museums.
In comparison to these is Washington County’s history center. Patricia Lutz informed me that the average annual attendance is 7,000, which equates to 23 visitors per day. By comparison, I can stop at the library, only 1 block away, and find at least 23 visitors anytime I walk in the door, and I have sometimes seen hundreds of visitors for an event.
This very low attendance makes the history center an under-performing center that is lacking in any sense of vibrancy. That needs to change over the next year. It is a complete disservice to the donors and the County to operate in such a low-key approach. It is also completely unsustainable and fiscally imprudent for the county to continue to invest $41 per visitor. I hope that over the next year, Patricia and her crew at the historical center can reinvigorate it and make it the cultural hub that it should be.
Big picture, our policy needs to be to continue to support the history center, but also to expect better outcomes from them.
Christopher D. Bossert
Photo courtesy History Center Washington County.