For the past 38 years, all of the Canyon County tax dollars earmarked for preserving history have gone directly to the countys historical society.
Thats expected to end this year, a prospect that has the society worried and smaller organizations delighted.
For the first time, county commissioners have invited history nonprofits from the countys small towns to apply for a share of the annual funding, a small dedicated tax levy up to 0.012 percent of each dollar of taxable value that has been in place since 1973.
The money comes from taxpayers everywhere in the county, and it needs to benefit everybody in the county, County Commission Chairman David Ferdinand said. No formal decision has been made to divvy up the money this year, he said, but its most likely going to happen.
Four new applicants Parma, Notus and Middleton history groups, plus the Nampa Public Library submitted requests that add up to roughly $76,000, and at least one other group is expected to apply. The historical society, meanwhile, was hoping for an increase in funding this year and asked for $140,000.
Under the tentative budget that commissioners approved last week, the total available for distribution will be the amount the historical society has received in each of the past few years: $90,241.
CCHS Director Wendy Miller said the organization, which had hoped to add a third full-time employee, could get by with the same money as this year, but the prospect of sharing the money is scary.
The county tax levy traditionally provides the lions share of the societys operating budget. The coming years tentative budget is $164,504, Miller said, of which the hoped-for $140,000 represents about 85 percent.
This is going to dramatically affect what were able to do, Miller said. We certainly will have to cut back on services and in the hours for the societys two museums its flagship in the old Nampa train depot and a smaller operation in Caldwell.
It would be a shame to have to shut down, she said. I dont know. It depends on what they (commissioners) do. And I dont know if its just this year.
It wont just be this year, commissioners said: Opening the history funding to all county applicants is expected to become the norm.
Ferdinand said the proposed distribution of next years funds likely will be determined before a budget hearing at the end of August, and individual applicants will be notified in advance.
Joe Bell, Canyon Countys historic preservation coordinator, said he advocated sharing the available funds among interested organizations as a way to recognize and bolster the efforts of the worthy small museums and hoped-for sites that dot the county.
They have a rich history all their own, said Bell, who sees great potential for heritage tourism in the county.
For example, the replica at Old Fort Boise (in Parma) is stellar. They stood up and did it without county money.
Jim Jeffries, president of the Old Fort Boise Historical Society, said his organization didnt know there was a county tax levy dedicated for preserving history until this past spring.
I understand one outfits been getting all of the money, he said. I think its a good idea to spread it among the rest of the museums.
Bell also noted plans to create a museum in Middleton and the efforts of the volunteers who run a museum in the old Notus fire station.
Notus Community Museum Director Renee Taylor embraced the opportunity for county funding in a letter of application: We are excited to be part of this amazing project to help showcase Canyon Countys rich history and make this a tourist destination.
A SUDDEN SWITCH
Miller said she values the contributions of the countys many historical groups but stressed that CCHS is a countywide organization that has assisted smaller communities efforts in the past.
Suddenly switching the countys distribution model could have a crippling impact on an organization that has relied on that money for decades, she said.
No tax money goes toward the organizations capital projects, such as a planned renovation of the historic downtown Nampa depot and construction of an adjacent museum building. The organization is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise that money.
Its not like theres a lot of money out there for the day-to-day budget of running a museum, she said. Just the maintenance of old buildings is a lot.
Commissioners asked the historical society to provide more public access to its collections and to increase its museums hours, but reducing funding will have the opposite effect, Miller said.
We keep being asked to do more and more with less and less, she said.
A former curator of the county historical museum in Nampa, Bell said the society and museums are major assets for the county, and he said the countys proposal is not meant to hurt them. But its important, he said, not to cut out the smaller players.
I think our small cities have got an amazing story to tell, Bell said. Id love to see what those dedicated folks can do if they have a little bit of money to run with.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447