KINGSTON - The city cannot afford to continue subsidizing the nonprofit Volunteer Firemen’s Hall and Museum, lawmakers say.
During a Tuesday meeting of the Common Council’s Laws and Rules Committee, members said the board of directors of the museum at 265 Fair St. in Uptown Kingston must come up with a plan to pay its bills and make repairs and improvements to the historic firehouse that houses the operation. Committee members said they support the museum and want it to remain in Kingston but that the city no longer can pay its utility costs, as it has done for several years.
“We’re not in the business of subsidizing a not-for-profit,” said Alderman Brad Will, D-Ward 3. He said the museum’s lease with the city expired in 2012 but the council is willing to work with the museum’s board to find a solution that benefits everyone, including taxpayers.
Alderman Brian Seche, D-Ward 2, said he toured the museum last year and told the board it needed to raise more money to pay for the facility’s expenses.
“They’ve been on notice for a long time,” said Seche, in whose ward the museum is located.
At Will’s urging, Seche agreed to speak with the city’s corporation counsel about drafting a letter to the museum board explaining that it needs to come up with a specific plan for the facility’s management. The city leases the building to the museum board for $1 annually.
Seche also said the city must take the museum’s collection of antiques and memorabilia into consideration when deciding what to do with the building. He said if the museum ceased operating and there is no other space equipped to house its collection, that collection could become the property of the state.
Council Minority Leader Debbie Brown, R-Ward 9, said she did not want to see the collection leave the city because of its historic value to Kingston. She agreed, though, that the city cannot continue to subsidize the museum.
Alderman Steven Schabot, D-Ward 8, said the museum board should be required to provide the city with a business plan. He said the city required a plan from the Kingston Point BMX Association, which leases city-owned land for racing, and should require the same from the museum. Schabot also said the city needs to be firm about a date by which the museum must submit such a plan. He said he is not opposed to the museum but doesn’t believe the general public understands how much it costs taxpayers.
The city’s cost for the museum was not immediately available.
Part of the committee’s discussion revolved around a letter sent April 1 to Mayor Shayne Gallo by attorney Joseph Ingarra, who works with the museum. In the letter, Ingarra said he previously tried to have the museum’s lease renewed and that the museum is willing to undertake ownership of the building and pay all its expenses, including repairs that he said the city was required to make under the previous lease agreement.
“Any person would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not understand that the city benefits tremendously from this Volunteer Firemen’s Museum,” Ingarra wrote, calling the museum a draw to Uptown. Ingarra said the museum had been told it needs to go to the Laws and Rules Committee again “and that this is all an exercise in futility because the city has already determined that they’re not going to allow the Volunteer Firemen’s Hall and Museum of Kingston to continue.”
No representatives of the museum were at Tuesday’s meeting. Several committee members said Ingarra’s claims are exaggerated and the city is not attempting to destroy the museum. They also noted that the museum is open only seasonally.
Ariel Zangla is a staff reporter for the Freeman covering local news. Reach the author at email@example.com or follow Ariel on Twitter: @ArielAtFreeman.