Money woes have Glenwood Springs considering taking over historical society

Bill Kight, director ejecutivo de la Sociedad Histórica de Glenwood Springs, realizando un recorrido por el Museo Histórico Frontier.
Cassandra Ballard/ Post Independent

The Glenwood Springs Historical Society is coming back to City Council this week to find out if it will be awarded the additional $60,000 previously requested.

“Our job is to be responsible for the fiscal health of the community and the money we’re responsible for,” Councilor Ingrid Wussow said. “I think we can find an amicable solution. I want them around.”

The Historical Society, which also runs the Frontier Historical Museum, received $60,000 from the city this year, but the organization’s executive director, Bill Kight, said they required an additional $60,000 to “keep the lights on” and the museum running.

The kitchen of the Frontier Historical Museum
Cassandra Ballard/ Post Independent

Council sent the request to the Financial Advisory Board, which has provoked multiple inquiries into the financial reports from the nonprofit organization. 

The Historical Society has been required to present their financial reports to the Financial Advisory Board twice. Both times, Mayor Jonathan Godes and Council Member Charlie Willman were unsatisfied with the reports because it was unclear how the funds were being spent.

Willman requested a five-year strategic plan and Godes requested additional explanations from the society’s tax returns and profit and loss sheet. 

Some of the questions from the mayor have included why the Historical Society isn’t claiming the museum building as an asset, who their contract labor workers are and whether they’ve used any of the grant funding aimed at restoring the Cardiff Coke Ovens.

Godes also requested information about how Doc Holliday’s Derringer pistol, which the museum obtained for $84,000 in 2017, was paid off. The pistol, which is housed at the Doc Holliday museum in the Bullock’s Western Store building, was purchased after an extensive community fundraising efforts, but its authenticity was called into question following the purchase.

The biggest concern from multiple Council members — something the mayor requested more information on — was why the numbers on the 2021 budget sheet, the 2021 profit and loss sheet and the 990 tax sheet simply don’t line up. 

The 2021 990 tax return and the 2021 profit and loss sheet don’t seem to match. For example, the revenue shown on their 990 form, and the income line on their 2021 P&L sheet have different numbers.

Concerns have mostly centered around how funding is being spent and where. 

“We put some of that money in the operations account to pay for the bills until we got the check from the city for $60,000, which the Council had already approved to keep us going, but we didn’t get the money until fairly recently,” Kight told the Post Independent this week.

He continued, “I tried to ask one of the contributors to the building account if it would be OK to do that and put it right back as soon as we got the money from the city, but I couldn’t get hold of him. So that’s what we did and we got it back in there now.”

Kight said that was the only time the society has ever done anything like that, but it was enough to cause concern from a couple Council members when he stated this during the Financial Advisory Board meeting. 

A crank phone in the museum
Cassandra Ballard/ Post Independent

Wussow and Willman have been working this week to find a good middle ground to make sure to continue support for the museum, while also making sure to hold the organization more accountable for their financial reports. 

“They are an important entity to the city,” Willman said. “We need to make sure the money given to the group is going to be spent correctly.”

Willman said that the goal will be to find a financially-viable, long-term commitment. 

Some ideas mentioned by Wussow and Willman included the city partnering with the Historical Society, merging them with the city’s appointed Historic Preservation Commission, or even having the city absorb the organization. 

“The dialogue is too premature and we don’t have all of the information yet,” Wussow said. 

Kight’s five-year plan requested by Willman includes having the city take over the society and the museum, but the city does not sound as prepared to take on another entity.

“The city does not have the resources to take over the museum; it should remain its own entity for operational and fundraising purposes,” Acting City Manager Steve Boyd said. “There would be an impact on our financial, HR and IT departments to support it — that could not be handled by an executive director.”

The kid’s room in the museum
Cassandra Ballard/ Post Independent

The building itself is another issue for the Historical Society and the city since the building requires upwards of $500,000 in foundational repairs. Kight said they received the structural assessment last year for $500,000, but that number has likely risen with inflation in the past year. 

The fund that Kight said he borrowed from for payroll was the building account, which was created to help fund building repairs.

One of the reasons the Historical Society receives more funding than any of the other nonprofits in the city besides the Art Center is because Glenwood Springs is uniquely rich with history, and also because of the Acquisitions and Improvements Fund that was created and approved by voters in 1991. 

The fund is a 1 cent sales tax that was created for projects like Midland Avenue and other road improvements, along with funding the Historical Museum.

“The total mandatory expenditure for museum operations pursuant to this paragraph shall be the lesser of 2% of the annual income in the fund or $35,000 per annum,” the ballot language from 1991 states. 

In 1998, that number was voted to be raised to $50,000, and in 2016, it was voted on again with the language stating that funding should cover an executive director’s salary and the amount would be at the Council’s discretion. 

The 2016 tax extension approved by city voters was primarily meant to cover bigger streets projects including South Bridge and Sixth Street. In the past, the fund helped to cover projects like the 27th Street bridge project and the South Midland Avenue reconstruction. 

Post Independent reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at or 970-384-9131.

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