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September 19, 2007

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Museum of Natural History will raise some of its admission fees next month to try to keep from losing revenue if its state funding is cut.

On Oct. 1, the admission fee for adults will increase to $9, while the fee for college students and senior citizens will increase to $7. Current prices are $7 for adults and $6 for college students and seniors.

The admission fee for youth ages 3-18 will remain at $5, and children under 3 will continue to be admitted free.

Museum membership prices also will not change. Memberships allow people to get into the museum for free, no matter how much they visit. Members also can get into the museum's five family-oriented festivals for free.

An order that Gov. Tim Kaine recently gave state agencies to prepare plans to cut their operating budgets by 5 percent actually was given to secretariats overseeing the agencies, not to the agencies themselves, said Tim Gette, executive director of the museum.

Gette said he is trying to find out from state Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant Jr. how much the museum will have to trim its budget.

"I'm not overly concerned" about the order, he said. "I realize we'll have to give something, but I don't know what (amount) yet."

He called the higher admission fees "a pre-emptive strike" in terms of trying to make up any cut in funding.

Gette said, however, that he envisions the worst-case scenario being the museum not being able to fill any positions that might become vacant.

Kaine's administration has estimated that current budgeted revenues will be $641 million below expectations.

State Finance Secretary Jody Wagner told House Appropriations Committee members Monday that a small number of layoffs among state personnel may be forthcoming. Gette said he does not foresee any layoffs at the museum.

Museum staff members are optimistic they will be spared major budget cuts, he said, because "we feel the museum has been a real success story" since its new building on Starling Avenue opened in the spring.

He said the museum's attendance and income have increased since the new facility opened. And the museum seems to be gaining prominence nationally - people from 21 states, some from as far as Wisconsin and New Jersey, attended the annual Indian Festival on Saturday, he said.

As the museum's director, "I want to make sure we continue being a success," hence the need for as much funding as possible, he said.

Executives with the New College Institute could not be reached Tuesday for comment on how Kaine's order might affect the institute.