Rifle Heritage Center Museum asks city to cover more costs
Rifle City Council is addressing a proposal to take on more operating costs for the Rifle Heritage Center.
The building at 337 East Ave., Rifle’s former city hall built in 1952, is currently being leased to the museum board for a nominal fee. The city also pays $15,500 per year for the museum’s insurance and utility bills.
The proposal requests the city replace a boiler and swamp cooler for $65,000, and hire a full-time employee to run the museum at $40,000 to $60,000 per year.
With the added costs and what it’s already paying, the city would be responsible for paying $140,500 for up to one year and an additional $75,000 per year in the future.
Museum board President Kathy Runia stated in a letter to the city that it has in recent memory spent $23,000 on new light fixtures and another $5,000 on plumbing upgrades. Those costs combined with what the museum needs to stay operational are why it is requesting more financial backing from the city.
“We have taken excellent care of the building, and have continued to make upgrades to the building at the Museum’s expense,” the letter states. “Our concerns need to be addressed, as we do not want to find the Museum in financial hardship.”
Rifle City Council discussed during a July 6 workshop whether they could take on the extra expenses. They asked if it was better for the museum board to go after grants or contact entities like the Colorado Historical Society or perhaps Colorado Mountain College to help with its operation.
City Council member Joe Carpenter said the city currently isn’t in a spot to just “fork over money.”
“I would like to be able to just go to them and say, ‘Look, you know you guys are gonna have to get some grants,’” he said.
The Rifle Heritage Center, formally called Rifle Creek Museum, originally opened in 1967 and is Garfield County’s largest museum. Over the past 20 years, however, volunteers running the museum have dwindled, while it’s had to raise money just to put heat in the building.
Meanwhile, Garfield County voters in 2018 shot down a ballot measure that would have increased property taxes aimed at providing additional funding for historical societies and museums, including the Rifle Heritage Center, city documents state.
Rifle City Attorney Jim Neu said museums countywide are facing financial hardship.
“Every community in Garfield County has a little museum and Historical Society, and all of them are dying on the vine,” he said. “(The 2018 ballot measure) was so minuscule property tax-wise and would have solved the whole problem.”
Rifle City Council member Brian Condie said he didn’t want the city to take on these extra costs until the museum board comes up with a long-term operations plan.
“What’s your succession plan? When you guys are all gone, who’s going to take it over?” he asked. “I’m not going to invest money if there’s no succession plan.”
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