Estuarium funding in jeopardyPublished 3:01pm Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Unless the proposed state budget is changed before it’s adopted, state funding for the N.C. Estuarium is in danger of being reduced to $58,000 for the next fiscal year.
And the Partnership for the Sounds, which operates the Estuarium in Washington and other environmental education sites in eastern North Carolina, will see funding for it and its other facilities eliminated if the state Senate’s version of the proposed budget is enacted.
The reduction in funding, if it happens, could result in staffing changes at Partnership for the Sounds facilities and the operating hours of those facilities, according to a spokeswoman for the nonprofit entity. The Partnership for the Sounds has reduced staff salaries in the past five years, too.
“Basically, what happened, the Senate did the budget first, and the Senate zeroed out all the nonprofits’ state aid running through the (N.C.) Department of Commerce, which included us. Then there was a stirring to do a little something on behalf of the Estuarium,” said Jackie Peoples Woolard, executive director of the Partnership for the Sounds, on Tuesday. “What the Senate budget did was zero the partnership out, totally. Our appropriation was $391,000 from last year. In the Senate budget, they took the N.C. Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative and moved it to (the Department of Environment and Natural Resources) under the natural-sciences museum. The 28 of those museums that are in that collaborative — and they included the Estuarium in that collaborative in the legislation in the Senate budget.”
Woolard said the Estuarium’s share of the money divided among the 28 facilities comes to $58,000. The Partnership for the Sounds has been using $177,000 annually in state funding in recent fiscal years to operate the Estuarium, along with funds from other sources, she noted.
“We needed $177,000 to operate the Estuarium. This grassroots money is $58,000,” Woolard said.
The Partnership for the Sounds is preparing for the expected reduction in state funding, she said.
“What it means is that we will have to rise private money in order to keep operating. We will not close the Estuarium tomorrow. I know that’s what people are worried about. We’re worried about it, too. We have some reserve money … that will allow us to keep operating for a few months,” Woolard said. “We would hope next year in the budget process the outrage would be enough that our friends in Raleigh would see to it to restore some funding. That’s the way it stands at this moment in time.”
Washington Councilman Bobby Roberson said the impending loss of funding for the Partnership for the Sounds and the reduction in funding for the Estuarium needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
“It definitely is going to be a negative impact for us because eco-tourism is one of the things has been one of the positive things for us. As you know, Beaufort County is a Tier 2 county, and anything we can do to promote tourism and development would be a plus,” Roberson said Tuesday. “Now that we’ve actually lost the funding on it, it’s going to limit those kind of activities over there. I think it would be in our best interest — the city, the county and the Mid-East Commission — to take a look at it and see if we can’t come up with funding to actually help leverage (other) funding because of the lack of funding from the state.”
State Rep. Paul Tine, D-Dare County, had a colleague introduce a bill in the state House that would have restored funding for the Partnership for the Sounds’ nonrecurring expenses “so we would have time to get our feet under us and secure other funding,” Woolard said.
“As it stands now, we will get $58,000 for the Estuarium, and part of that verbiage in that legislation is that every penny of it has to be spent on the Estuarium,” she said.
Tine believes there’s an outside chance the funding picture for the nonprofit could change.
“Our best chance is that the conference committee chooses the House version for funding the Partnership for the Sounds,” Tine wrote in an email Tuesday. “Before the House approved its budget, Representative (Bob) Steinburg and myself put forth an amendment in Appropriations attempting to provide some additional funding for one year. The idea was to allow the Partnership a year to find and develop additional revenue streams. This amendment was defeated.
“Our rural areas are bearing the brunt of the funding cuts in our state and the cuts to the Partnership for the Sounds is another example. Museums in Raleigh saw no cuts save one that received a 15% cut. On the other hand (funding for) the Partnership is being either eliminated or drastically reduced.”
Woolard said the Partnership receives annual appropriations from Bertie County, the town of Windsor, the town of Columbia and Tyrrell County. Those local governments have included that funding in their budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That funding is spent on Partnership for the Sounds facilities in those places, Woolard said.
Beaufort County and Washington do not provide funding to the Partnership for the Sounds, but Washington provides much in-kind services for the Estuarium, Woolard noted.
Hyde County, which normally provides funding, has not yet informed the Partnership for the Sounds if it will provide funding for the upcoming fiscal year, she said.