That was the message several city council candidates hammered home during an hour-long election forum hosted by the Dearborn/Dearborn Heights League of Women Voters on Monday.
About halfway through the forum, moderator Linda DePoorter asked six candidates if they would continue to support city funds for the historical museum.
The museum currently operates on a yearly budget allocated from the city's general fund. For the 2013-2014 fiscal year, that amount is $59,000. The museum also draws on reserve money from the Lizzy Ross Fund. The fund has been largely untouched and has $800,000 available from the sale of city owned property to Andiamo's Italian Steakhouse.
Candidates Colette Richards, Mike Sareini, Kristyn Taylor, Brian O'Donnell, Tom Tafelski and Robert Abraham all said that they would like to see the museum remain a viable attraction for residents.
"One of the things I would like to do is preserve the past of Dearborn," Richards said.
In order to do that, the candidates said that the city should work with groups like the museum to help find alternative funding sources.
"I think we need to work on finding alternative solutions to help fund the different aspects of the city, especially the Dearborn Historical Museum, so that we can maintain it and keep it here. It is our past and we need to preserve that," Richards said.
O'Donnell said he would like to see a concrete plan from the museum outlining how it plans to become self-sustaining in the next five years.
"I'm more than willing to look and see what's going on (at the museum), however I don't feel that we've had a well thought out general plan for the next few years. Once that is drawn up and we can see what money has been raised and how it will be spent, I'll be more than happy to support it," he said.
Councilman Robert Abraham agreed with Richards, stating that he would like to see the museum continue to pursue fundraisers and outside funding.
"Everything that we're talking about tonight has to do with finances," he said. "We can't do the same things we've done in the past. The council's responsibility is to look at the budget and figure out how to do things more efficiently and effectively."
Jack Tate, the museum's acting chief curator, said that the museum has presented a structural building plan and a five-year plan to the council on numerous occasions.
Tate said the museum completed a state audit in 2012 that determined it should be able to earn one-third of its budget in the next five years.
"A historical museum will never be self-sufficient," Tate told Dearborn Patch after the forum.
Tate said, however, that the museum, the Museum Guild of Dearborn and the Dearborn Historical Society have been working hard to raise money. Earlier this summer, the Guild held a three-day lawn sale that raised $1,400 for the museum. It also hosted its first golf outing that brought in several sponsors.
"These are just the start of many activities to help support us and bring the museum back in the public eye," Tate said.
Capital Improvement Projects Part of 5-Year PlanTate said within the next five to seven years, the museum is hoping to position itself for funding for capital improvement projects. Renovations are needed at the Commandant's Quarters, McFadden-Ross House and museum offices.
Plans call for the redevelopment of the Michigan Avenue parcel (approximately 1.3 acres), the removal of the museum annex, the redevelopment of the northern two acres of land the museum sits on, integrating the museum's current office with the former Quality Inn motel site, and expanded parking along the Rouge River linked to Ford Field Park.
All of that takes money, however, which has been an ongoing issue with the city council. As part of its five-year plan, the museum asked the city for $141,000 each year. After that, money would be set aside annually until 2020-21 for interior improvements to the four buildings. The council voted to pull the museum's capital projects budget for the current fiscal year.
During Monday's forum, incumbent Tom Tafelski said he is not a proponent of "throwing money at a project that does not have a plan or a future."
Tafelski said he would rather see parts of the museum, such as the McFadden-Ross House, relocate to the Commandant's Quarters or become a kiosk at the future Intermodal Passenger Rail Station opening in 2014.
Tate said any further downsizing at the museum would be a detriment to the residents of Dearborn. The museum already operates with a handful of volunteers and a part-time employee.
"The museum was extremely viable in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. For reasons I do not know, it slid down hill after that," Tate explained.
"What we're trying to do now is be as innovative as possible in order to draw interest back from the public," Tate continued, referencing the museum's upcoming beer tasting fundraiser.
But fundraising and grant writing takes time and planning. Tate believes the museum can do it, but not without the city’s help and patience.
“I’m doing everything I can to bring support back in,” Tate said. “It doesn't happen overnight It is going to take several years to bring interest back up. It can be done, but not without the support of the city administration and city council."
On Tuesday, the city council approved Tate's request to hire an additional part-time assistant at a cost of $4,620 for the remainder of the year. It also approved a request for $36,330 for repairs to the museum office and storage buildings due to flood damage sustained from summer storms.
Watch the forum on CDTV
Other topics addressed Monday included the Dearborn Administrative Center, the Detroit Institute of Arts millage and public safety.
The forum also included a discussion on the three millage proposals for Henry Ford Community College and Dearborn Public Schools that will be included on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The forum is available on repeat broadcast on CDTV. Times will be posted on www.lwvddh.org and the tape will be available at cdtv.pegcentral.com.