A couple bucks per property ought to be enough to keep the Kanabec History Center from closure; it’s not a big ask but one that must still be approved by voters. It has failed before. 

“Our existence is in jeopardy and we are asking for  help,” said Kanabec County Historical Society board member Larry Brettingen.

Through his involvement with the history center, he said he’s seen directly how important the museum is to recording the history of the community.

“Our history should not be lost. We hope to repair and maintain these exhibits to show how far we have come, and where we are going,” he said. 

On The Brink of closure

The Kanabec History Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit museum that receives no regular state or federal funding; nor is there mandatory financial support from the city or county. The center relies heavily on memberships, donations and annual non-mandatory contributions from area cities, county and townships.

But those funds aren’t keeping up with expenses. The center’s expenses have exceeded revenue, resulting in net losses of approximately $20,000 annually. The history center’s entire annual revenue is approximately $40,000, typically with  $60,000-$70,000 in expenses.

This year the history center has trimmed it’s expenses even further, with the annual budget for 2022 set at $51,330.

“That’s barely enough to keep our doors open let alone have adequate staffing,” said Brettingen.

To supplement their budget, the history center will ask the community to contribute approximately $45,000 annually through a special tax levy. 

He estimated that the average cost would be $5-$10 per household to keep the history center functioning.

If that contribution is to be paid through property taxes, voters must first approve it. 

Trying again

In May of 2020, a ballot question asked voters to approve a special tax levy of $30,000 for the Kanabec County Historical Society. 

At the same time, another ballot question was asking voters to approve a $61.9 million bond to build a new Mora High School. 

The high school question passed; the history center question failed.

Brettingen admitted the timing and communication of their last request was less than ideal; so much community focus was on the high school that the history center’s request was lost in the noise. Brettingen also said their communication efforts could have been stronger, especially when it came to explaining how much it would cost each property owner. 

The historical society is going to try again. 

Brettingen and Kanabec History Center Executive Director Barb Barnes met with the Kanabec County Board Dec. 21 to request putting an item on the ballot for the  2022 general election. 

With the board’s unanimous approval, the history center will work with the county election administrator to take next steps in drafting a ballot question. 

About the Center

If the History Center closed, its artifacts would be stored by the Minnesota Historical Society. Events, services, rental spaces and access to historic buildings such as Coin, Whittier and Webster schools would be unavailable to the public. 

Operated by the Kanabec County Historical Society, the Center is located on 37 acres bordering the Snake River on the west side of Mora.

Kanabec County Historical Society was first formed approximately 90 years ago. The Kanabec History Center opened on June 24, 1978. 

The property the center sits on and the building itself were dedicated to the Kanabec County Historical Society by Pete McVay, in memory of his wife, Mary.

To learn more or make a donation to the Kanabec History Center, visit www.kanabechistory.org.

Donations can be made online, or checks can be mailed to the Kanabec County Historical Society at 805 Forest Avenue West, Mora, MN, 55051.

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