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Museums board still undecided on budget

The new leaders of York County's museums are weathering growing pains, while museum staff await a clearer picture of the Culture and Heritage Museums' future.

The Culture and Heritage Commission has less than a month to submit a budget and staffing plan to York County leaders. The commission's seven members met Wednesday night and decided to bring a better defined plan to their next meeting.

Reducing personnel likely will be a part of it, though no decisions on cuts have been made.

Earlier this year, county leaders replaced the commission's 21 members with seven new ones, saying the commission had failed to provide oversight of museum operations.

The County Council asked the commission to review the museums' finances, staffing levels and salaries and to make any appropriate changes.

Looming deadlines, unclear goals

The new commission has until mid-August to make a recommendation. Continued support from the county depends on it. The county has provided about $2.9 million of the museum's $4 million budget.

Stalling progress are the commissioners' diverging ideas on how they should move forward.

Dennis Getter said they should shoot for a reduction in the budget, anticipating what the County Council will want to see.

Ragin Craig said his staffing recommendation likely will cut personnel expenses among upper management. But, he said, other commissioners should bring other ideas to the table.

Jonell Hagner said during a break that some County Council members have "uttered" a figure for how much to cut from the budget, adding that the figure was meant as a "starting place" and "nothing set in stone."

Rick Lee told his fellow commissioners: "I don't think the money is the thing that needs to drive you. Think about the work that needs to be done and how many people are needed to accomplish the jobs."

The council hasn't formerly directed the commission to cut anything specific, County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said Wednesday night. However, he would be "shocked" if council members weren't advising the commissioners to look at the budget, "look at the facts" and "do the right thing," he said.

It would be nice, Hagner said, if the County Council would provide a figure to work with.

Commissioner Hester Benitez said after the meeting that she'd rather not know what the council thinks.

"I don't want to be pressured. I don't want to be pushed into a rash decision. I know we have a job to do. I agreed to do it to my best abilities," she said.

Benitez said she's still learning and trying to blot out the "hearsay." The current staffing chart is like a "foreign language." Before modifying it, she wants to know what each staff member actually does.

Staff listening in

The transition has many museum staff wondering about their futures. Museum employees stood in the hallway Wednesday night and filled the seats surrounding the commissioners.

Lynn Wiles, who worked in finance for 10 years, starts a new job soon. She started looking elsewhere after the County Council decided to merge the museum's finance and human resources departments into the county's.

Staff are most upset the new commission hasn't sought input from them, Wiles said. There's also a feeling the commissioners don't trust the employees, she said.

The employees' concerns were not lost on the commission, Chairman David Plexico said. "They're on edge and rightfully so, but we haven't gotten enough details."

On Aug. 1, the full commission and the finance and governance committees will meet.