During a heated debate, the Webster Parish Police Jury agreed to give part of their discretionary funds to repair the Cullen Railroad Museum’s roof.
Several jurors on both sides were passionate about what to do, although they all said they understood the gravity of the issue. In the committee meeting Tuesday, District 11 Juror Steve Ramsey voiced concerns over whether they should help them or not because of the rising costs of health insurance, the possibility of losing money and the condition of the state’s budget.
District 3 Juror Daniel Thomas says he understands the concerns but didn’t feel it was right to fund the Dorcheat Historical Museum and not help the Cullen Railroad Museum.
“I’m not ashamed of the money we’ve spent here,” he said. “I do not think anyone in this room can look them in the eye and tell them that we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on museums down here and that we’re going to ignore them.”
In January’s regular meeting, District 10 Juror Vera Davison suggested using their discretionary funding. She and District 9 Juror Jerri Lee said if each juror would put up some of their discretionary funding, they would match it to help the town.
Lee brought it up again in committee. Some were against the idea, saying it needed to go through police jury funding, while others agreed to put up a portion of their discretionary funding.
“If you ask us to go the other route and use jury funds, then we’re really going to have to make them wait,” Lee said. “I was suggesting this particular way so that we could act immediately.”
Jury President Jim Bonsall heavily emphasized that helping the Town of Cullen has nothing to do with “north and south.”
“This has got to do with funding another museum, and we don’t need to be funding the one we’re funding now,” he said. “In my opinion, if they can’t get the money together to fix this roof, how are they going to get the money to keep it going? If we give them the money, I don’t think the police jury needs to be getting deep into this. I think we need to be getting out of the museum business.”
Bonsall accused Thomas of using the “north and south” angle to pressure the jurors into “making a bad decision.” Bonsall says Thomas supported the Dorcheat Museum, and Thomas agreed whole-heartedly that he did.
“If the Dorcheat Museum was next door to me, I would still say that we need to quit funding that,” Bonsall said. “I don’t think we could cut the wheels out from under them at one time, but I believe within a short period of time we need to quit funding them. In Cullen, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mr. Mills is as sincere as anybody.”
Lee says if the jurors were as sincere as they said they were, then “put your money up.”
Cullen Mayor Ray Mills says they are not asking for ongoing funding; they are asking for one-time help to fix the roof so they can move forward.
“What we’re asking for is if you will give us a little consideration on getting the roof fixed,” Mills said. “We don’t want to put a burden on the police jury, we just want a little help where we can get into a situation where we can move forward with it. Every time it rains, there’s about six inches of water sitting on top of that building.”
Mills brought forth three quotes to repair the roof on the little museum, one for $6,000, one for roughly $10,000 and the last for $27,000.
Mills says they also appointed a board and developed a mission statement but will not seek nonprofit status as the museum is under the auspices of the town. Cullen Councilwoman Barbara Green says they are already seeking grants to upgrade and keep it going.
Several jurors agreed to these amounts:
- District 6, Jim Bonsall: $1,000
- District 1, Bruce Blanton: about $900
- District 4, Randy Thomas: $1,000
- District 9, Jerri Lee: $1,500
- District 10, Vera Davison: $1,500
- District 2, Allen Gilbert: $1,500
- District 8, Nick Cox: $500
- District 3, Daniel Thomas: $2,000
Ramsey had already used his discretionary funds towards repair and cleanup for a building in the Village of Heflin.
It all equaled $9,900 and in the motion, made by Lee, seconded by Daniel Thomas, the jurors agreed to cap the amount to $10,000.
Daniel Thomas says while he understands the town worked hard to get those figures and do what was asked of them, he still wanted to see a more detailed quote of what they want done to the roof.
The item will come before the jury at its April meeting to give the Town of Cullen time to submit a detailed quote of what will be done to the museum. The police jury will meet April 5 at 10:30 a.m. in the meeting room on the second floor of the Webster Parish Courthouse. Committee meetings will be at 9 a.m. at the police jury office on the third floor.