Shelter Island Reporter Editorial: Sound move to restore Historical Society funding

There’s work to be done, but the Town Board showed prudent judgment in restoring $10,000 to bring its allocation to the Shelter Island Historical Society back to $15,000, which it has received annually for the past decade.

Every autumn, a Town Board is faced with the challenge to finance its operations while keeping taxes in check. It’s no easy task and wasn’t simplified this year by a pandemic that increased expenses and decreased revenues.

We respect the hard work that’s gone into crafting a 2021 budget. And we understand that even small amounts shaved from expenses can add up to substantial savings.

Nonetheless, we believe original thoughts about cutting $10,000 from the Society’s allocation would have been a blow for an organization that provides so much assistance to town committees, students and the wider community, along with providing information to researchers.

Lack of that money could have humbled this vital operation.

Before the money can be turned over, town officials need Society officials to put together a contract for services. These would, according to the Society Treasurer Michael McClain, include expenses for appropriate preservation of documents and materials; specific assistance given to town committees to do their work; and functioning as the only repository of the town’s history, other than financial records kept at Town Hall.

Deputy Town Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams had told her colleagues it could cost median level residents about $2.30 more in taxes, but now, plans call for taking the money from the town’s fund balance.

Supervisor Gerry Siller had characterized the money that goes to the Society as a charity, not a service, but that was because there wasn’t a written contract for services. Now there will be.

The Society has been the beneficiary of many financial gifts that enabled construction of the new facility where more materials can be housed, properly protected and made available to the public.

Much of the money for the new History Center was a gift from Elizabeth and Bill Pedersen.

The staff is tiny and the Society is dependent on the efforts of many volunteers to keep its costs low.

But those operating costs need support that is only partially covered by contributions and grants. Town officials acted wisely in recognizing the value of the organization and continuing to help fund the Society for the relatively paltry sum of $15,000 a year. The Society’s principals and volunteers should never have to go hat in hand every year to beg for the money to keep this remarkable organization viable.

Congratulations to Society officials, other Islanders and the Town Board for coming to a wise decision.