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Museum paying Spencer for beefed up police patrols

By Emily ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SPENCER – With no security guards left on staff and no state dollars to spare, the N.C. Transportation Museum will pay the town of Spencer $20,000 from gate receipts to beef-up police presence on the campus.
The museum’s security positions were eliminated last year during a reduction in force in response to state budget cuts.
“It’s not an unknown fact that we lack security,” said Sam Wegner, executive director for the museum.
Considering the size and placement of the property, nighttime security is critical for the safety of the community and museum, Wegner said.
In May 2011, the N.C. Division of State Historic Sites eliminated funding for a $26,256 annual contract between the museum and Spencer police to provide nighttime security. The division eliminated nearly all contract services at the time due to state budget woes.
The museum’s foundation – a private, nonprofit support group – paid for an additional month of security.
Since then, there has been a gap in security for the museum. Spencer police randomly drive through the campus and respond to incidents but don’t do nightly security checks.
With the reinstatement of the security agreement between the town and museum, police officers now are doing regular drive-throughs in the evening and late at night. They are checking doors and have increased surveillance of the perimeter around the museum.
The facility did not see an uptick in vandalism or crime during the security gap, Wegner said.
“We were lucky,” he said. “We were blessed.”
He said he still considers an increased police presence crucial, especially considering the property’s porous borders.
“Just because it didn’t happen then doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen,” Wegner said. “It’s a critical need for the ongoing operation of the museum.”
The museum began charging admission last year for the first time in its history after the state cut its $1 million allocation in half, then cut it further this year to $300,000.
Revenue generated by admission fees is funding the security agreement through the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, 2013.
The money goes into Spencer’s general fund and compensates the town for additional police patrols, Town Manager Larry Smith said. The funding isn’t tied to a specific employee and will not pay to add another officer, Smith said.
“It does not mean less presence in other parts of the town,” he said. “The chief is excellent about putting patrols where they are needed.”
The museum, which employed 18 people before state cuts, now has seven full-time employees and will add one more. Wegner is searching for a chief education officer, who will work on the front lines with visitors as well as devoting more time to special events, education and outreach.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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