Bowman Museum leadership seeks continuation of tax levy

The Central Oregonian

Dating back to the late 1990s, the levy has supported museum operations and enabled a variety of services

By Jason Chaney for The Central Oregonian

Crook County voters will be asked to approve a continuance of a longtime Bowman Museum levy during the special district election in May.

Since the late 1990s, museum leaders have asked taxpayers to support a tax of 6 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value, and voter approval has averaged around 80%. But in the 2022 general election, they sought an increase for the first time in the levy’s history, proposing an increase of 4 cents per thousand dollars. It was rejected in November by a margin of about 900 votes, much to the surprise of museum leaders.

“I was very surprised,” Crook County Historical Society Treasurer Phil Burgess said after the election. “I thought perhaps we might not win by the margin that we had historically … I did not anticipate losing the measure at all.”

Not only did the defeat represent a rejection of the increase, it left museum leaders without voter approval to continue the levy beyond its sunset at the end of the 2023 calendar year, which would leave the museum in a tough financial spot.

“The levy pays for operational expenses for the museum more than anything else,” said Museum Director Sandy Cohen, who went on to note that the levy provides about one third of the museum’s total funding. The levy pays for staff salaries, IT, maintenance and facilities among other operational expenses, he added.

The levy will not fund the incoming exhibit center that will occupy the former Hans Pharmacy building – that project is funded through a Crook County Historical Society capital campaign.

“Because of the levy, we have been able to provide a lot of services free to the public here at the museum,” said Crook County Historian Steve Lent, who worked at the museum for many years before recently retiring. “That includes admission and utilizing the community room, because we felt that was one of our obligations for people supporting the levy that we pay them back.”

Lent went on to note that the museum promotes several programs that are free to not only museum membership but the general public. The programs include lectures, tours and more.

“We have a great rapport with the school system here,” he added, “trying to relate the history of our area.”

Lent believes that without the levy, some of those programs would have to be curtailed and he and other museum leaders don’t want to see that happen.

“It is very important that we observe our heritage here in the local community,” he said. “We have had such good support in the past that we hope that would continue.”

The Crook County special districts election will be held on May 16.