Despite receiving a yes vote from the majority of city councilors present, a resolution establishing admission fees for the Roswell Museum and Art Center failed at Thursday night’s meeting of the Roswell City Council.
The president of the RMAC Board of Trustees said Friday morning despite the proposal’s failure, the board will continue with plans for a membership drive starting in October.
By state statute, a resolution must have approval from the majority of the entire governing body in order to pass. In the case of Roswell’s 10-member City Council, that means six votes.
Resolution 20-55, which would have set admission prices for the museum for the first time in its 83-year history starting Jan. 1, failed on a vote of 5 to 3.
Councilors who voted in favor of the resolution were Margaret Kennard, Barry Foster, Jacob Roebuck, Jeanine Best and Judy Stubbs. Councilors who voted against it were George Peterson, Juan Oropesa and Angela Moore.
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Councilor Savino Sanchez was absent from Thursday night’s meeting. Councilor Jason Perry attended the meeting by phone, but his call had dropped at 6:25 p.m., prior to the introduction of the RMAC fees resolution.
Perry told the Daily Record Friday afternoon he had a speaking engagement at 6:30 p.m. Thursday that had been arranged prior to his election to City Council in March. He was able to rejoin the meeting by phone later in the evening.
Perry said had he been present for the RMAC fee vote, he would have voted in favor of it.
“I am 100% behind the museum and the work they put into determining what the fee should be,” he said.
A failed resolution cannot come before the council again for six months unless at least five councilors — including at least one who voted in the majority — request that it be readdressed.
Perry said that he would make that request to City Clerk Sharon Coll.
“Hopefully other councilors will feel the same way and do the same,” he said.
The resolution proposed an admission fee of $10 for visitors age 16 and older with discounts for residents and other groups, as well as some free-admission days.
Moore, who also attended the meeting by phone, said she thought the price was set too high and would rather see other efforts take place first, such as a membership drive or more donors.
“I am all for charging something. I think $10 is kind of high for a start,” she said.
The price could discourage people with lower incomes from going to the museum, she said.
“You guys might think that’s enough, but if I have a family and I already pay to go to everything else, $10 for me and $10 for my husband and then teenagers, it begins to get expensive,” she said
The museum staff, in creating the proposed fees, did include discounts and free days, as well as giving the museum director the discretion to make exceptions for free admission. The proposal was approved by the RMAC Board of Trustees and the General Services Committee in July and August, respectively.
For Roswell residents, students, seniors and active military and veterans, admission would be $7. The proposal included a discounted group rate and a combined rate for the museum and Goddard Planetarium, which already has a $5 admission fee.
Under the plan, admission would be free to children 15 and under, RMAC members, members of the North American Reciprocal Museum Association and school groups. Free days would be offered the second Saturday of each month to Roswell residents and every Wednesday for those 60 and older.
The museum director would be able to make exceptions to give free admission to groups or individuals that would have a financial hardship paying the fee. However, an amendment suggested by Foster and approved unanimously changed the wording to give that discretion to the city manager or an appointee. Foster said he made the amendment so if the museum director was not at the museum, that decision could still be made.
Cymantha Liakos, president of the RMAC Board of Trustees, told the Roswell Daily Record Thursday’s vote could affect the board’s plans to increase membership.
“I believe we’re going to continue to pursue the membership campaign but it becomes a little bit more difficult because if we were charging admission, there is enormous benefit to membership — free admission,” she said.
“We are hopeful that the City Council may reconsider paid admission to help with our membership campaign,” she said.
She said the vote was surprising, considering the city gave direction to the museum — as well as to the Spring River Zoo and the Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River — to generate a portion of their own funds in the 2021 budget.
As the city began to assess the possible effects to its revenue from the state’s pandemic health orders and a downturn in the oil industry, the council approved creating special revenue funds for each of those entities and sought within the fiscal year 2021 budget to seek cost recovery on those and other city services.
“This was a high-pressure year, where our budget was slashed in half and before next year, we need to at least demonstrate a pathway toward generating 70% of the operating budget,” Liakos said.
“That was going to be one of our primary ones, as well as the membership campaign,” she said of the admission fees.
Museum Director Caroline Brooks said at Thursday’s meeting the staff estimated admission fees could generate at least $90,000 a year but said it was difficult to make an estimate since the museum doesn’t have demographics on visitors and it’s uncertain how many people might not visit if they have to pay.
She said between 35,000 to 45,000 people participate with the museum each year for all programs. Between 13,000 and 14,000 of those are coming to visit the museum and would pay admission under the plan, as opposed to those attending a special event that would be free of charge.
Two councilors who voted for the resolution said charging admission will show the city values it as a service for the public.
“I love this museum and for the longest time, I thought we should never charge for it. But there again, there’s value when you start charging,” Foster said. “It puts value to it and we will probably see more traffic in our museum.”
“As we value it, other people will see the value in it,” Roebuck said.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or email@example.com.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.