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Is preserving history an essential service?

Our view: Both sides had points in County Board debate

On a split vote Tuesday, the McLeod County Board of Commissioners approved additional funding for an outreach coordinator for the McLeod County Historical Society.
The hope is that the position will help find funding for projects for some of the auxiliary historical groups in the county, such as the Glencoe Historic Preservation Society and Historic Hutchinson, as well as the smaller communities that want to preserve their records and memorabilia.
Commissioner Doug Krueger hammered home the debate on whether preserving history is an “essential service,” comparable to law enforcement and road maintance, and if it should be funded with taxpayer dollars.
As newspaper people, we tend to like history. After all, we chronicle the events of the day that eventually become future generation’s past and the cornerstone of their own present and future. We think understanding our roots helps us plan for the future.
But we recognize that not everyone feels that way. It’s hard to assign a hard value to the subjective things that make up our quality of life, such as historical preservation, parks, trails and libraries.
They are all good things, but are they essential?
And Krueger rightfully pointed out that it costs money to get money. That’s an unfortunate fact of life. It does cost money to apply for, and manage, grant funding.
On the other hand, as Commissioner Paul Wright pointed out, if you don’t put skin in the game, you won’t have a chance to get anything. And that money will go elsewhere.
We were heartened to hear that Legacy grant funding was obtained to make the historical museum handicapped accessible. That’s better than having to foot the bill with local tax dollars.
It also was heartening to hear that the historical society has received most, if not all, of the grants for which it has applied.
So, did the County Board do the right thing by approving funding for the position?
We could fall on either side of that decision. Both those in favor of the funding and those against had very valid points.
But the one thing that would have swayed our vote (if we could vote) in favor is the stipulation that the position will be reviewed on an annual basis and funding for it will not automatically be included each year.
We need to monitor those dollars and make sure that we are, indeed, getting a return on our investment.
— L.C.