Otago Museum uneasy over financial pressure

Anxieties surfaced again at the Otago Museum Trust Board yesterday over growing financial pressures and potential problems caused by deferring capital spending, including for gallery refurbishment.

Museum treasurer Mike Horne said good performance by the museum's business units and the temporary deferral of some projects, including gallery refurbishments, had delayed the time at which the falling reserves would reach a ''minimum operating level'' previously specified by the board.

One graph tabled at yesterday's meeting showed available funds falling from about $7 million in February this year to about $5 million in early 2015, about $2 million above the ''minimum'' level.

Board member Associate Prof David Hutchinson asked if deferring such work would adversely affect the museum in future.

In a later interview, the museum director finance and commercial, Chris Farry, said the museum was in a generally sound financial position, but was engaged in a ''massive balancing act''.

The museum's boiler would soon have to be replaced, at a cost of about $90,000, and a chiller unit, needed for museum climate control, would also have to be replaced before long.

If spending, including gallery refurbishments, was deferred too long, the museum's attractiveness to the public could be reduced, which would in turn damage the institution's economic base, he said.

Early last year, museum officials said the museum would dip into its reserves for the first time for many years by spending more than $300,000 to improve salaries and offset rising costs.

Mr Horne told a board meeting late last year the museum was still in a sound financial position, but a tabled report warned of further ''significant concern'' by mid-2014. Money that was ''straightforwardly accessed'' by the museum was expected to fall by several million dollars, to only $3 million, by that stage.

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