Surprise: Now That Taxpayers Are On The Hook, Welk Homestead "Wishlist" Bloats Up To Millions

Today State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt – who sits on the State Historical Society Board as a part of her elected duties – writes for SAB about why she voted against the purchase of the Lawrence Welk homestead. The State Legislature appropriated $100,000 to the State Historical Society budget to purchase the Welk property; no funds were included for maintenance or operation,” she wrote. “The motion called for a local group of volunteers to maintain and operate the site until a funding request can be made in the 2015 Legislative Session.  What happens then?   We don’t know.  Will this project be funded?   Will funds be pulled from other historical sites to accommodate this new site?  How long will this aging group of volunteers be available?”

Treasurer Schmidt asks good questions, especially as North Dakotans got a glimpse of what this purchase is going to cost them. After the purchase of the homestead was approved, naturally. We wouldn’t have wanted these costs on the table before the approval.

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Historical Society’s wish list for dressing up the birthplace of beloved bandleader Lawrence Welk into a top-rung tourist attraction contains more than $2.3 million in estimated expenses, led by a $1 million interpretive center. …

That figure includes a $25,000 annual operating budget, $43,000 per year to staff the site from mid-May to mid-September and $1,040 per year for a state vehicle. It also includes $68,400 in one-time opening costs, mostly for maintenance, ranging from a $25,000 skid-steer loader to a $50 Dustbuster.
A new security system also was estimated to cost $25,000. Paaverud said the site already has a security system, but the state would want to replace it with one that ties into the system at the Heritage Center in Bismarck.

Supporters of this boondoggle explain that the homestead must be preserved in order to honor the history of North Dakota’s German and Russian settlers. But that’s a false premise. We can honor that history without purchasing the decaying homestead in the middle of nowhere where a long-dead celebrity with a dying fanbase lived until he was 20 years old.

The historical argument for this purchase is tenuous, at best, and given the emergence of this “wishlist” only after the taxpayers were put on the hook for the farmstead speaks to some bad-faith dealing by those promoting the deal.

If the legislature refuses to appropriate more money to this project, the State Historical Society would have the option to turn it over to a local entity. That would be for the best. If this is such an important tourist attraction, why not let private and local interests put the money on the table to preserve and operate it?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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