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Campisi wants existing tax to be used for JB Museum


November 24, 2004 - By SCOTT MILLER

For the Call

County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, wants to use St. Louis County's hotel-motel tax to keep the Jef-ferson Barracks Museum open.

That would be a tough sale, County Council Chairman Skip Mange told Campisi at a budget hearing last week. Mange, R-Town and Country, believes public-private partnerships could mitigate the parks department's fiscal woes.

The county Department of Parks and Recreation would absorb a 16.5 percent cut in operating money under County Exec-utive Charlie Dooley's fiscal 2005 budget proposal, Acting Parks Director Lindsey Swanick told the council. As a result, she said, the JB Museum would lock its doors Jan. 1.

The museum's four buildings currently are open from noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednes-days through Sundays. Only the Visitors' Center would remain open. The county would need $65,000 to keep the other three buildings open, Swanick said.

"The 2003 attendance for education programs and field trips was only 1,800 people. The people coming to see the buildings and static displays was approximately 16,000," Swanick said. "It's suffering from declining attendance."

But Campisi said he does not support a budget that closes the county's crown- jewel museum.

"Those (buildings) are visited by people that come from out of town," Campisi said. "I would like to use the hotel-motel tax money for those facilities."

The hotel-motel tax is used to develop county tourism and the trend is to pump the money into professional sports. The county gave several million dollars to the St. Louis Rams for the Edward Jones Dome and is anticipating appropriating around $2.3 million annually for the Cardinals' new ballpark — the controversial Cardinal subsidy is pending in the court system, however.

"I will tell you, John, to be honest with you, we have a better chance of getting volunteer organizations to come in and help keep them open than getting the Convention Visitors Center Commission to agree to pull money out of the hotel- motel tax for that purpose,'' Mange said.

Getting hotel-motel tax revenue for the JB Museum "would be like pulling teeth," said Jim Baker, Dooley's chief of staff. "There's not much money there."

Instead, Mange said, "We need partnerships with private entities. You could operate all kinds of things. I think we've done a little bit of that but it's obvious to me we're going to have to do more."

Swanick said she was willing to work with any voluntary group or private organization to help keep the museum open.

"Maybe it's a matter of reducing hours," she said. "Maybe if we're only opened on weekends."

Councilmen also discussed asking municipalities to further support their parks through taxes while the county concentrated on funding for parks in unincorporated areas.

"We have parks that are sitting in municipalities," Mange said. "Why can't we go to municipalities and say, 'Folks, we've got a problem. What can you do to help us with our parks?'"

Councilman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrews-bury, added, "Where should we be concentrating our (county) resources? Perhaps in unincorporated areas that, you know, don't have anyone else to rely upon for funding."

The parks department's overall 2005 proposed budget, including both capital and operating funds, is $26.5 million, more than 6 percent less than last year.

To save cash, the department is laying off employees, transferring some to the Metro Parks budget, scrapping some educational programs and events such as free symphony concerts and reducing park upkeep.

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