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City Commission approves museum center plan

Angela Rayne, Dickinson Museum Center coordinator, gained approval from the City Commission Monday night for an operating plan for the city’s museum complex. The museum will open to visitors today for the first time since the city acquisition of the former Dakota Dinosaur Museum.

As of today, the Dickinson Museum Center is open for business.

Museum Center Coordinator Angela Rayne gained unanimous approval of a business and operating plan for the complex at Monday night’s regular meeting of the Dickinson City Commission.

The plan featured the incorporation of the former Dakota Dinosaur Museum, as well as the unification of the museum’s properties -- the Joachim Regional Museum, Prairie Outpost Park and Pioneer Machinery Building, with the new addition of the dinosaur collection -- into a more cohesive experience.

Rayne said she drew data from multiple North Dakota museums to create some of the main logistical details of her own plan. Moving forward, the museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and on a year-round basis. The outdoor features of the center will remain seasonally operational from mid-May to mid-September.

Following the opening of the wall that used to separate the formerly free Joachim from the paid-entry Dinosaur Museum, visitors to the complex will now pay a single fee to access the various attractions. Admission will cost $6 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and $4 for children.

Rayne said the operating plan was designed to address multiple issues brought up in previous documents pertaining to the museum, such as the need to create a consortium of the different support boards involved in the museum, address ongoing and deferred maintenance issues, increase paid and volunteer staffing and raise additional revenue.

“The way we want to increase revenue is through earned income sources,” Rayne said. “There’s been a lot of talk in the museum industry about, ‘Free museums are usually not worth one’s time.’”

The proposed budget for the center estimated the 2016 revenue at more than $278,700, coupled with expenses of almost $511,000. The difference was requested from the city and amounted to $33,000 less than requested the previous year.

Rayne said one of her “proudest accomplishments” was the establishment of a consortium of the Stark County Historical Society, the Southwestern North Dakota Museum Foundation and the Northern Plains Ethnic Foundation. The new grouping would pass over full control of the entities’ exhibits to the museum and attach the different organizations to a support and fundraising role.

The new mission statement for the complex was also included in the plan.

From here on out, the Dickinson Museum Center “develops, maintains and exhibits cultural and natural history collections related to our region from prehistory until the present.”

Commission approves first read of budget reforecast

The first reading of an ordinance that would formalize a reforecasted city budget built to accommodate a revenue deficit of about $10.5 million was approved unanimously by the commission Monday.

City administrator Shawn Kessel said the shortfall came primarily in reductions to sales, occupancy and hospitality taxes, as well as decreased oil-related revenue.

Though the budget was approved last October, Kessel said, it became apparent by November that it would need to be examined once again. He said the city has already been “living by the adjustments” made to the budget since about January of this year.

Kessel said city staff had worked to verify that revenues included in the budget could be counted on to come in as expected and adjusted accordingly if it appeared the specific item had changed.

“Unfortunately, in most cases, that revenue stream is down,” he said.

The reforecast subjects discussed in Monday’s meeting came from the general fund, which Kessel described as the “least impacted” and which was primarily decreased in the areas of state aid distribution and highway distribution. The general fund deficit accounts for around $1.5 million, $1.2 million of which is accounted for in the first reading of the reforecast.

Cost-saving measures included altering city hiring procedure by leaving open positions vacant and altering the city’s skill-based pay, a measure that was instituted during the oil boom years to incentivize municipal employment for individuals with highly sought-after job skills by adding money on top of their base pay.

Kessel suggested the commission look to the 2017 budget process and a possible “wage freeze” for recipients of skill-based pay, who are largely in the Dickinson Police Department and Dickinson Public Works Department.

“Nobody would receive a wage reduction,” Kessel said. “It would allow us to incorporate some of that skill-based pay into their base bay, thereby making it permanent. I think we can adopt two different cost-of-living increases and apply them to those people that are receiving skill-based pay on a slightly smaller amount.”

The alternative measure previously suggested to the commission would have reduced skill-based pay by about 20 cents per hour.

Such a change would account for a $50,000 difference in the 2016 budget but would make for a “fairly major change in philosophy,” Kessel said.

City Commission President Gene Jackson said he had a “worry” about skill-based pay.

“When we did that, about four years ago, we all looked at each other and said, ‘We have to understand this is going to go away sometime.’” Jackson said. “And we all looked at each other and said, ‘That’s going to be very difficult to do.’ And now the time is here, and i think we need to discipline ourselves in this matter.”

He added that he believed the city needed to “take a good, hard look” at its pay scale within the budget beyond skill-based measures and hoped the next commission could do so.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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