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Council boosts its funding for Fort, theatre

    It took two hours to reach a decision but town council will increase its contribution in 2013 to the Fort Museum, Empress Theatre and Fort Macleod Handibus Society.
    Council on April 8 approved grants to organizations in 2013 totalling $191,483.
    Council will give the Fort Museum $86,000, which is up from $66,000 last year but less than the $125,000 requested by the Fort Macleod Historical Association.
    Council approved a $50,000 grant for the Empress Theatre Society, which is $10,000 more than last year but less than the requested $65,000.
    Fort Macleod Handibus Society will receive $8,000 including $2,000 toward the purchase of the next bus. The society had asked council for $15,000.
    Council turned down a new request for up to $25,000 from the Claresholm and District Transportation Society.
    Mayor Shawn Patience explained the grants to organizations would normally be approved with the operations budget.
    The Redford government’s decision in its budget last month to cancel the Summer Temporary Employment Program cost the Fort Museum about $22,000 in funding for the Musical Ride.
    “In order for the Fort to move forward and get the Musical Ride happening. . . they kind of need some direction from council,” said Coun. Trevor Curran, who represents council on the Fort Macleod Historical Association.
    Curran said the Musical Ride is the focal point of the Fort Museum during the tourist season, and has been key in attracting more tour groups in recent years.
    The historical association asked for council to increase its contribution to the Fort Museum by $59,000 to $125,000.
    “In order to have a good product they’re going to need funding,” Curran said. “Hopefully the economic spinoff is justifiable.”
    Coun. Susan Koots wondered whose responsibility it is to fund operations of the Fort Museum. It is only in recent years the Town of Fort Macleod has contributed any funding to the Fort Museum.
    “The Fort Museum is basically asking taxpayers to fund one-third of their operations,” Koots said.
    Koots doesn’t want to see the Musical Ride shut down or the museum close, but she is concerned how much taxpayers are asked to pay.
    “When it becomes this amount of money, I think questions have to be asked,” Koots said, wondering if the museum is being operated as economically as possible. “Could costs be cut? There have been an awful lot of increases in this year’s budget.”
    Curran assured council the historical association board and staff have thoroughly examined the budget.
    Koots suggested out-of-town visitors are not being asked to pay enough to get into the museum, suggesting admission revenue averages $3.82 per person.
    By comparison, the historical association wants council to pay about $5o per taxpayer through its grant.
    Koots also pointed out the museum gift shop made a profit of just $4,000.
    “I think the Fort really needs to analyze where you’re making money, what you’re doing,” Koots said.
    Koots pointed out the Fort Museum is not a Town of Fort Macleod operation.
    Patience said council had to make its decision carefully.
    “I don’t think any of us wants to see the Fort close or the Ride stop,” Patience said.
    Patience pointed out council does not tell the Empress Theatre Society or any other group that gets a grant how to operate.
    “I’m not sure we should treat this any differently,” Patience said.
    The mayor said the historical association has complicated the issue by asking for more money than just the usual grant and an additional $21,000 to make up for the lost STEP grants.
    Coun. Sharan Randle pointed out the Fort Museum was started by a group of business people to bring tourists to town, as a benefit to local businesses.
    Randle pointed out last year the Fort Museum and Empress Theatre received grants totalling $106,000 from council.
    “Do we really get the benefit?” Randle asked.
    Curran wondered how “benefit” could be defined and determined.
    Randle pointed out no Town of Fort Macleod department would get the 80 per cent increase in its budget requested by the Fort Museum.
    Patience suggested the challenge for council is to determine how much it can support the Fort Museum without it becoming totally dependent on taxpayer money.
    Randle agreed.
    “We have a budget,” Randle said. “Everybody pays taxes and we’re supposed to look after their money.”
    Patience said it might be time for the Fort Macleod businesses that directly benefit from tourism to financially support the Fort Museum.
    Council reached consensus on raising its contribution to the Fort Museum to $86,000 for this year, and to add $10,000 to its funding for the Empress Theatre.
    Other grants to organizations approved April 8 by council were at the same level as last year. The grants included:

    • Environmental Committee, $2,500.
    • Chamber of Commerce, $1,800.
    • Santa Claus Parade Committee, $12,500.
    • Citizens On Patrol, $1,000.
    • South Country Fair, $500.
    • Family and Community Support Services, $19,683.
    • 1884 North West Mounted Police Barracks provincial historic site, $9,500

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