With 17 museums to fund during a budget crunch, Secretary of State Tom Schedler slowly is shifting attractions in far-flung corners of the state into the hands of local groups.
“I’m not anti-museums. I’m just being practical,” Schedler said.
Most of the museums — which range from an old building in Garyville that has yet to develop into a museum to century-old waterworks in Shreveport — were added to the state’s portfolio during flusher times. The state faces a nearly $1 billion shortfall in its operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2013.
The Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge and the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport consume the bulk of Schedler’s $4.3 million museum budget. The two big museums employ 70 percent of the museum workers and eat up $2.8 million of the overall budget, leaving $1.5 million for the other museums.
Downsizing his museum portfolio should stabilize the financial future of the Old State Capitol and the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, Schedler said.
More than a year ago, Schedler cut hours and employees at museums in Ferriday, Grambling and other locations.
His latest focus is to find someone to take possession of museums or tackle chores.
City workers now mow the grass at the Delta Music Museum in Ferriday.
In Garyville, a two-story, columned building is supposed to house relics of the town’s heyday as a cypress mill hub. The museum is closed because the state never scraped together the dollars to open it to the public.
“We’ve done nothing with it but cut the grass,” Schedler said.
Early next year, the Garyville Museum Timbermill Association is expected to accept the keys to the museum, reverting the building to the group that donated it to the state. The hope is that the association will be able to develop the museum into a tourism attraction.
Stanley Orillion, president of the Garyville Museum Timbermill Association, said he is not certain the change in ownership will revive the museum.
“The state had it for seven years. Nothing’s been done,” he said. “If we get the mill back, there’s no money as well.”
Part of Mansfield Female College in Mansfield already changed hands. The college graduated women for 80 years before merging with Shreveport’s Centenary College. Heirs of Riemer Calhoun donated the property to the state in 2002.
Connected to the college is a Lyceum building that the state recently sold back to the Calhoun family for less than $50,000. The family, working with the DeSoto Parish Police Jury, converted the building into a community center for several million dollars less than the state thought the work would cost.
“It’s probably the greatest example of, ‘Government get the heck out of the way and something can be accomplished,’ ” Schedler said.
Now Schedler is in discussions with the Calhoun family about reverting the college itself back into its possession.
On Dec. 8, voters in Lake Providence will decide whether to adopt a 2-mill property tax that would generate $75,290 annually for the operation and maintenance of the Louisiana State Cotton Museum.
The museum celebrates a time in which cotton was king in the South.
Schedler said passage of the tax would allow him to shift the museum off his budget.
State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said he has mixed feelings about the possibility of making the museum the local community’s responsibility.
Lake Providence, which is located in East Carroll Parish, is mired in poverty.
“To me it’s the poorest area in the state and it has the least amount of tax base. I don’t know if they can afford that,” Thompson said.
Schedler said he plans to approach House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, about assuming control of the State Capitol gift shop and the neighboring arsenal. He said those operations could be moved into the Legislature’s budget.
He said he does not want to give up all of the museums under his control, just the ones in which local solutions can be reached.
“These are very nice facilities,” Schedler said. “But, quite frankly, it’s a difficult process of keeping them open.”