July 31, 2014

Elyria
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State historical group may cut support

COLUMBUS – The Ohio Historical Society wants to unload one-third of the sites that it operates to ease the cost of maintaining its roster.

The society, a nonprofit group that gets most of its money from the state, operates 60 historical sites around the state, but it wants to transfer ownership of 20 of them to local preservation groups or governments.

Its 60 sites – most run with the help of local groups – are more than any other state operates. However, the financial burden of maintaining the sites is great.

For example, the brick wall that lines the backyard of the Our House museum in Gallipolis is falling down, and repairing it will cost $37,000.

The society is under contract with the state to maintain the sites. Of its $26.5 million budget this year, $17.4 million comes from taxpayers.

The society has a list of $100 million in maintenance projects – leaky roofs, crumbling brick walls, outdated heating and cooling systems – at the 60 sites. About $4 million in state funding this fiscal year is set aside for those projects.

The 20 sites that the society wants to spin off were chosen because their historical importance primarily is local, Executive Director William Laidlaw said.

“There`s a lot of passion for these sites in the various towns that they`re located in,” he said.

The nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission is talking to groups that operate the 20 properties and is studying whether tax credits to local businesses that invest in the sites, endowment-matching programs and more state money might help.

Six years ago, with the state budget facing billion-dollar deficits, the Legislature cut the society`s funding by one-third, causing layoffs and curtailed hours at society sites.

Unloading historic sites isn`t unusual, said Bethany Hawkins of the American Association for State and Local History in Nashville.

States have made historic sites low priorities, compared with public-health and safety issues.