Dunn County votes against $3,500 funding for Colfax Railroad Museum

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE —  Although the Colfax Railroad Museum got farther than it ever has before in obtaining support from Dunn County, the Dunn County Board ultimately voted against a budget amendment awarding $3,500 to the museum.

Herb Sakalaucks, curator and owner of the Colfax Railroad Museum, spoke during the Dunn County Board’s 2015 budget hearing November 12.

Sakalaucks said he had gone to the community resources and tourism committee earlier in the summer to ask for $3,500 from Dunn County for the Colfax Railroad Museum.

Every year for going on a decade, Sakalaucks has asked Dunn County for funding for the museum.

Sakalaucks said that no one on the community resources and tourism committee has ever been to Colfax to see the railroad museum.

On June 27, a tornado that went through Colfax damaged the roof of the wooden depot on Main Street that had been built in the fall of 1898.

The Wisconsin Central Depot now located on Main Street replaced the original depot in Colfax that burned down in August of 1898.

The wooden depot had been a private residence for many years, and after the tornado damage, the owner of the depot offered the building to the railroad museum to restore as a historic site.

Sakalaucks told the county board he had purchased the depot for $10,000 and then had contracted to have the building re-roofed this fall.

An appropriation from Dunn County would help defray the cost of purchasing the old depot and fixing the roof, he said.

The 1898 depot was moved to its present location on Main Street after the stone depot that exists today was built in 1914.

The Power of 10 Placemaking Study conducted in conjunction with the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in the summer of 2012 identified the railroad museum and the old depot as important for promoting tourism in Colfax, Sakalaucks said.

The Colfax Railroad Museum pays $1,100 in property taxes per year, he noted.

Promotion for the Colfax Sesquicentennial in July that included the Colfax Railroad Museum helped double the attendance at the museum this summer, Sakalaucks said.

Tour guides have reported to the Colfax Messenger that the railroad museum has received visitors from around the United States and from overseas.

The Colfax Railroad Museum has the largest collection in the United States on display of railroad dining car china, Sakalaucks said.

An appropriation of $3,500 would help promote tourism in Colfax and for Dunn County, he said.

Dunn County provides funding for the Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie to increase the theater’s $5 million endowment but provides little funding for tourism in rural parts of the county, Sakalaucks said.

Budget amendment

Gary Stene, county board supervisor from Colfax, made a motion to amend Dunn County’s 2015 budget to include $3,500 for the Colfax Railroad Museum.

The Colfax Railroad Museum has asked for funding from Dunn County numerous times but has never received funding, he said.

Dunn County has a limited number of tourist attractions, and promoting tourism in the county is part of  economic development, he said.

Stene made a motion to increase the external organizations budget by $3,500 for the Colfax Railroad Museum and to decrease the county’s fund balance in the county manager’s department by $3,500.

Tim Mather, county board supervisor from Menomonie, seconded the motion.

Committee

James Tripp, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the community resources and tourism committee, said the committee receives a variety of funding requests from outside agencies.

Reviewing the requests for tourism funding is one of the committee’s functions, he said.

Committee members conduct an honest and thoughtful review of the funding requests, Tripp said.

One of the criteria for funding requests is evidence of broad-based community support, and the broad base of support for the railroad museum does not appear to be there, he said.

Tripp did not define broad-based community support or how it would be defined for the Colfax Railroad Museum.

Tripp said he was satisfied that the committee had made a good decision in not funding the railroad museum’s request for $3,500.

Committee members did not feel that Dunn County was in a position to fund the $3,500, he said.

Dunn County’s 2015 budget is $74.6 million, and $3,500 would be .000047 percent of the budget.

Mary Solberg, Dunn County board supervisor from Menomonie and a member of the tourism committee, said the committee has a selection process that follows a set of criteria.

The railroad museum did not meet the criteria, she said.

Solberg did not elaborate on what is included in the list of criteria.

Yes and no

Calvin Christianson, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he was of the opinion that the budget amendment for the railroad museum was a good proposal.

David Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville, wondered if the tourism committee was aware of the unusual circumstance the tornado had created for the museum and the depot building.

Stene said he appreciated the community resources and tourism committee’s work and that it is “a thankless job.”

“It was not my intent to impugn the integrity of the committee (by asking for a budget amendment),” Stene said.

The railroad museum is a worthy issue, and “I appreciate your consideration,” he said.

The motion to increase the outside agencies budget for 2015 by $3,500 for the Colfax Railroad Museum and to decrease the fund balance in the county manager’s department by $3,500 failed on a voice vote with an accompanying show of hands of 12 “yes” to 17 “no.”