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VMNH OKs budget cut plan
To meet governor’s order in case of federal stalemate

Sunday, November 18, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Potential budget cuts approved by the Virginia Museum of Natural History’s Board of Trustees on Saturday basically are the end of the line, officials said.

If any more cuts are needed in the future, more than likely at least one of the museum’s programs will suffer, said Executive Director Joe Keiper.

Gov. Bob McDonnell recently told state agencies to develop plans to trim their budgets by 4 percent by Nov. 21 because of possible federal budget cuts that may occur Jan. 1 if Congress and President Obama cannot agree on budget issues.

The museum’s 4 percent cut amounts to $103,000. But the board unanimously approved $105,262 in “budget reduction options” suggested by Keiper.

Those reductions include $12,000 in energy cost savings expected from planned improvements to the heating and air-conditioning system. Gloria Niblett, the museum’s director of administration, said the upgrades will cost about $7,000 and the money will be taken from reserve maintenance funds budgeted for the current fiscal year.

Reductions in part-time employees’ hours collectively worth $22,400 are among the options, as well as $48,862 in cuts to “discretionary spending” line-items such as travel and training expenses.

Those cuts total $83,262. Keiper said the other $22,000 in reductions will come from budgeted travel, training, utility, exhibit and marketing expenses. But the museum will use money from its foundation — its private fundraising arm — to offset those cuts, he said.

Missy Neff Gould of Richmond, the board’s vice chairman, said the cuts will be presented to state Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech. She emphasized, though, that they may not happen.

If they do, “this is cutting into the meat” of the museum’s operations, said trustee Mark Crabtree of Martinsville. “We’re not cutting into fluff.”

That is because other spending cuts imposed over the years have made the museum’s budget lean, officials indicated.

“The state makes it very tight for us,” Keiper said.

He said he thinks the reductions in part-timers’ hours will not affect museum services. However, he said he thinks any further cuts would require a program to see a noticeable cut.

Also Saturday, the board ratified a one-time 5 percent salary bonus it gave Keiper during its previous meeting in August after an evaluation of his work.

Trustees at that time figured that their vote needed ratifying at the next meeting because with the state reducing the board’s composition, they did not know then who would remain on the board. (See story, page 7-A.)

The bonus equals about $5,200, and will increase Keiper’s salary this year to about $115,500, he and Niblett have said.

Trustees also learned that if the museum ever takes a position on uranium mining in Virginia, it will be the governor’s position.

Virginia Uranium Inc. wants the ban repealed so it can mine and mill uranium at the Coles Hill site near Chatham. However, Gov. Bob McDonnell has asked lawmakers to postpone consideration of lifting the ban until more study can be done and possible rules and safety measures can be presented.

Keiper has moderated three public forums — one in Chatham and another in Virginia Beach — on uranium mining. Gould said state officials told her he did “a fabulous, balanced job” in handling the controversial topic.

The museum is neutral in providing information on scientific issues, Keiper said.

But “as an institution (of the state), we do have to take the lead of the governor” in taking positions on issues, he said.


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