Council heeds museum's dire plight

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2013

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Cash-strapped Canterbury Museum says it will have to downsize unless it gets more in operating levies from the region's city and district councils.

It has been struggling to make ends meet because of the high cost of maintaining its historic buildings and a $60,000 per annum increase in its insurance premiums since the quakes.

Its plight is so dire that unless it can secure increased funding from the district and city councils that financially support it, cutbacks will be necessary.

"We've been dipping into our reserves for the last seven years and we've exhausted them," museum director Anthony Wright admitted to The Press yesterday.

"We can't live in this artificial state any more."

On Tuesday, the Christchurch City Council voted to increase the operating levy its pays to Canterbury Museum by 5 per cent.

Council staff had recommended an increase of only 3 per cent, in line with inflation, but Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button pushed for the levy to be increased by another 2 per cent because of the financial difficulties the museum was facing.

She said the museum had been steadily dipping into its reserve to pay its operating costs and that situation was not sustainable.

A 2 per cent increase in the levy would have a "barely discernible" impact on rates but would be a "game-changer" for the museum.

"It will enable them to keep operating and plan for the future," Button said.

In the current financial year the council has paid the museum just over $6 million in levies. In the next financial year it is proposed that figure will rise to $6.4m.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker supported giving the museum more.

"If the museum doesn't get it [the extra money] it would mean a retrenchment in what it is doing," he warned.

However, Cr Tim Carter questioned whether the council should be giving the museum more money in the current financial climate.

"A 3 per cent increase I can accept, but 5 per cent I can't. I can't justify an increase above inflation," Carter said.

Organisations such as the Canterbury Museum had to learn to live within their means and if that meant they had to review their business structure, then so be it.

But councillors voted 10 to 3 to include a 5 per cent levy increase for the museum in the draft three-year plan.

Under the Museum Trust Board Act, the Waimakariri, Selwyn and Hurunui district councils are also required to contribute through their rates to fund the Canterbury Museum.

They will need to match the 5 per cent increase being proposed by the city council.

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- The Press

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