The Richfield Historical Society is seeking financial help from the city, but it is unclear how much the city can legally do to aid the organization.
The historical society’s chair of finance, David Butler, has requested an annual appropriation of $10,000 in order to increase staffing at the Richfield History Center. That would augment a $30,000 budget for 2015.
However, based on comments made during a Richfield City Council work session in May, the city’s hands may be tied.
“We’re pretty limited in what we can do,” City Manager Steve Devich said at the time.
Based on analysis of state law from City Attorney Mary Tietjen and a brief from the Office of the State Auditor, cities may not give historical societies money for ongoing operations, Devich explained.
Butler, meanwhile, was still holding out hope last week for the cash infusion, which he said would allow the historical society to staff a director three days per week. Currently, the historical society’s director, Mai Vang, is at the history center five hours per day, two days per week.
The prospect of increasing her presence with city funds is fraught with legal questions. State law allows cities to provide money to a county historical society, but not a city one, according to a memo from Tietjen. The law also allows cities to appropriate funds in order to commemorate or celebrate a specific historical event, she added.
Those provisions don’t address the historical society’s request, so the answer to whether the city of Richfield is authorized to fund the historical society in the fashion proposed is, “probably not,” Tietjen wrote.
Butler said he sees enough ambiguity in that analysis that he’s still hoping for the $10,000 appropriation this year. That would help satisfy the requirement of an anonymous $10,000 pledge that was made with the caveat that the Historical Society raise another $20,000, Butler said.
Furthering his hope, he noted a bill proposed in the Legislature this year that would give cities more leeway in funding historical societies. That bill, he explained, was attached to another bill that did not pass, although many still expect it to become law eventually.
The city has funded the historical society in the past, but not for operating expenses. Butler noted the historical society received $5,000 from the city for the creation of the history center. Plus, the city provided $5,000 for the 2008 publication of the book, “Richfield: Minnesota’s Oldest Suburb,” according to Devich.
Proceeds from the sales of the book’s 4,000 copies have been integral in funding the group’s operations, Butler said.
“So that’s given us substantial amounts of money and we’ve been operating on that,” but that stream is drying up, he said.
The historical society is putting together a capital campaign to raise another $10,000 on top of the $10,000 it hopes for from the city, he added. But the group’s fundraising efforts have not been as visible as other nonprofit community groups in Richfield.
Garcia pointed to examples such as the Friends of Wood Lake Nature Center and the Richfield Rotary Club as groups that put on one large fundraiser per year. Garcia said she hasn’t seen such an endeavor from the historical society.
In addition to the fundraising and the question over a city contribution, there is another option for the historical society to reach its financial goals: Turn the private organization over to the city, a prospect raised by Mayor Debbie Goettel in May.
The city might be able to tap into funds inaccessible to the historical society, she said. Plus, Goettel said, “I think we can be more efficient.”
The historical society’s board has not considered such a proposition, but “if the city wants to come up with the proposal, I guess we’d listen to it,” Butler said.
Such a move would require “significant investment” from the city, Devich said, especially considering the task of preserving the 163-year-old Riley Bartholomew House, which stands next to the history center at Lyndale Avenue and 70th Street.
The historical society has a $35,000 grant from the state’s legacy fund for the purposes of structural analysis on the frontier house, Butler noted.
“They’re looking at the house and determining what we need to do to make sure it lasts another 100 years,” he said.
The house’s interior may one day be converted to an interpretive center, with it’s different rooms highlighting various aspects of Richfield’s history. One room has already been converted in that manner as a test, highlighting the city’s post-war boom.
Whatever happens to the Bart House and the Richfield Historical Society, Goettel was clear on her ultimate goal.
“I don’t want to see it shuttered,” she said. “That’s my big concern, because we don’t want to lose that piece of history in Richfield.”