JOHNSBURG ♦ The North Creek Railway Depot Museum could be in for more than a budget battle this fall, according to members of the organization that runs it — it could be in a battle for its existence.
Town Supervisor Ron Vanselow is considering cutting the budget line that has funded the nonprofit museum’s operating costs for the last four years. Vanselow is concerned about the town paying a nonprofit’s heating, insurance and electrical bills when many other organizations in the community receive no public subsidy.
“Without the base support from the town, the chances of the railroad museum closing is probable,” said Mary Cunningham Moro, a board member of the North Creek Depot Preservation Association.
The museum, which opened in 1992, tells the interweaving story of President Theodore Roosevelt’s rise to the presidency in 1901 — he learned of President William McKinley’s death at the North Creek Rail Depot — along with a history of the trains and ski industry that drove early 20th century development in Johnsburg.
The two dozen aging museum volunteers and Preservation Association members see the museum as something more than a small building packed with skis and train dioramas.
“The museum is the centerpiece of town,” said Mike Brassel, another Preservation Board member.
The $450,000 fundraising effort in 1990 that led to the purchase and rehabilitation of the dilapidated 19th century structure by the Preservation Association predated the recent train-focused buildup in North Creek by two decades.
The board members see the museum as the linchpin of the reinvention of North Creek as a train-focused tourism community.
But some Town Board members fear that funding the organization in the town budget is illegal. They also say they aren’t convinced the organization would collapse without the town’s cash, which has amounted to about $40,000 over the last four years.
“I think you’re being a little dramatic,” said Town Board member Peter Olesheski Tuesday night, in response to claims that the loss of funding would kill the museum. “If these folks are as devoted as they say they are, I have a hard time believing they can’t find other sources of money.”
Preservation Association co-President Helen Miner says the community of about 2,500 residents can’t support the museum’s $25,000 annual budget.
This summer for the first time the museum’s visitors — about 1,700 of them — had to pay admission. Also, the part-time museum director position was eliminated last year, Miner said.
Longtime Town Board members Gene Arsenault and Arnold Stevens blasted the proposal to zero out the museum’s funding line, arguing the museum brings together the community and the narrative now being told to tourists.
“We simply can’t pull their funding and just allow them to collapse on the sidewalk,” Arsenault said. “How can we as a town turn our backs on them?”
The museum could seek occupancy tax funding from the town if it loses its budget line. Johnsburg requires that occupancy tax funding for a specific entity decrease each year because the goal of the tax is to make events and organizations self-sufficient after four years.
The museum’s closure could complicate matters for the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad, which operates a tourist train on Warren County’s tracks.
The museum owns almost all of the platform at the train station. Warren County owns just a small sliver behind the museum building.
The Town Board, during Tuesday’s discussion, was split, with Vanselow and Olesheski questioning the funding’s legality, while Arsenault and Stevens argued the museum is too important jeopardize.
Town Board member Katie Nightingale could be the swing vote who decides the issue for the 2013 town budget.
Nightingale said after Tuesday’s meeting she needs more information about Preservation Association’s other funding sources and a legal opinion about the funding before making up her mind.