The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula is hoping that two mill levies on the June 4 ballot will help it become a more prominent county institution. Mills raise money for institutions through increases in property taxes. If voters pass the two mills for the museum, taxes would go up by $4.77 a year on a $100,000 house and $9.55 on a $200,000 house, according to the Missoula County Elections Office.
The museum tried unsuccessfully to get a joint mill with the Art Museum passed in 2000.
“There are a lot of initiatives and we feel the voters went price shopping,” says Bob Brown, director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. “They got weeds and parks for the price of museums.”
The aftermath of the defeat was not pleasant for the history museum, which gets two-thirds of its funding from the county and the rest from grants and donations. Staff were cut, hours were reduced, the price of admission went up, and even visiting school groups were charged a fee. In addition, several historical structures have fallen into disarray. The original 1878 root cellar, a large underground warehouse where the military once kept perishable items, is in danger of collapsing, as is a homestead cabin dating back to 1900.
Passage of the mills this year would infuse the museum with vital operating funds, Brown says, which are hard to come by through private grants. If the mills do not pass the museum will not close, he says, but it will remain in a state of stagnation.
“It will for the first time really allow us to do some long-range planning,” Brown says.
So far, that planning has focused on turning the museum into a hub for historical preservation and display throughout Missoula County. Part of the money from the mills would be set aside for the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula to disperse to other historical institutions in the county. Historical groups in Seeley Lake and Lolo have expressed interest in starting exhibit spaces, and the mill funds would allow the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula to help them out, Brown says.
Museum officials had been concerned that voters may already have done their price shopping when they approved several mill levies for Missoula County schools earlier this month. However, Brown was encouraged by the large margin by which the measures passed, which show a commitment to education in the county.
“Museums are a large component of education these days,” Brown says. “A lot of schools are cutting back in art and history, and we could be the only show in town.”