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Lawton museum's funding future discussed

(Source KSWO) (Source KSWO)

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - Despite being put into the city's most recent budget, funds designated for the Museum of the Great Plains might not make their way to the museum after the Lawton City Council tabled approving those funds at Tuesday’s meeting.

The City of Lawton has allocated funding for the museum since 1998. This year the city budgeted $550,000 but the city council still must approve the service agreement for them to actually get the money. But at Tuesday’s meeting, a few council members had some questions and concerns, saying they think the money could potentially be better spent elsewhere.

Executive Director of the Museum of the Great Plains John Hernandez said the museum has put in more than $4 million worth of renovations. He said without the city's funding, the museum would face some tough times.

"Every municipality needs a museum just as much as they need a library,” Hernandez said. “Those are things that each citizen deserves. I understand it's not easy to come up with the funding."

$550,000 of funding comes from the City of Lawton each year, which Hernandez said mainly goes towards paying the staff and operating costs. Ward 3 City Councilman Caleb Davis said it doesn't make sense for tax dollars to go to the museum if residents also have to pay to enter the museum.

"They should be able to go in there one day a week for free,” Davis said. “That should be their thank you to the citizens for providing $550,000 a year to keep the museum open."

The museum used to offer free entry on Sundays, but because of rising costs, they ultimately put an end to that. Right now, the museum sells memberships that allow people to pay an increased price, but it allows them to enter as many times as they like. Hernandez said if they begin offering free days again, their funding will take a hit as the membership numbers would likely drop.

"Why should they pay when they can come in for free? What does that do for us? Of course, that funding drops,” Hernandez said. “We've increased our membership four-fold here at the museum. But when you start to lose money, how do you stop the flood? You can't just poke a hole in it. You have to reduce services. Free Sunday was one of those services."

Davis said he thinks the museum is important, but there are several other things that could desperately use $550,000 worth of funding.

"The main problem in this town as identified by over 98-percent of the citizens through a chamber of commerce survey is roads and sidewalks,” Davis said. “We have to start cutting somewhere. There's no good place to cut, everyone's got an argument for funding in this city. The bottom line is we have to re-prioritize and decide. “

However, Hernandez said if the funds are cut from the museum, it could be catastrophic.

"I'll use a football term, it's the death penalty. That's it. We would not be able to support the staff, the services that we have here would go as long as we can and then at that time the museum would be dismantled,” Hernandez said.

Davis also touched on the fact the money is allocated for economic development when the majority of the museum's visitors are from Lawton. He said it would be much better classified as quality of life funding instead.

Hernandez said he will take all of the city council's concerns to his board museum trust authority, who is ultimately in charge of all policy decision. The issue is expected to be discussed at the next city council meeting.

Copyright 2017 KSWO. All rights reserved.

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