OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Historical Society’s 2024 legislative agenda includes a request for increased funding to cover raises for some of its lowest-paid staff and increased operational costs. The OHS is also asking lawmakers to remove the cap on the agency’s apportionments from the sales and use tax collections.
The agency requested $1.25 million to help bring the salaries of 90 OHS staff members within 15% of the regional median. Approximately 75% of the 90 employees make less than $45,000 a year, before benefits, and fall 15% or more below the regional median. The funding also includes targeted increases for other staff members who earn more than $45,000 annually, before benefits, but fall 25% or more below the regional median. This request was also included in the OHS’ 2023 legislative agenda, but lawmakers did not appropriate any additional funding to cover the raises during the 2023 session.
“Our OHS employees are dedicated public servants who routinely go above and beyond the call of duty to provide a rich experience for our patrons across the state,” said Trait Thompson, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “The current pay level of most of our staff does not reflect the value they provide, and it’s well past time this is rectified.”
The OHS requested nearly $1 million to cover increased operational expenses and the impacts of inflation. This money would pay for rising IT costs, higher construction and maintenance costs, larger-than-expected property insurance premiums, higher employer-paid taxes, and mandatory benefit allowance increases for all full-time employees.
There is also a request to remove the cap on the agency’s apportionments from sales and use tax collection. The OHS partnered with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department in this effort. The OHS is currently capped at around $1.6 million. Without the cap, the FY23 collections for the OHS would have been $2.24 million. The extra money will help further address ongoing deferred maintenance needs. It’s estimated that OHS museums and historic sites have approximately $94 million in deferred maintenance needs. The effects of aging infrastructure can be seen in the increased number and cost of emergencies in the past few years. Bills to remove the cap are authored by State Rep. Mark Lawson (R-Sapulpa), State Sen. Brenda Stanley (R-Midwest City), and State Sen. George Burns (R-Pollard). A bill passed by lawmakers in 2022 authorized $46 million in Legacy Capital Financing funds to address about half of the deferred maintenance needs.
Duke R. Ligon, president of the OHS Board of Directors, noted, “We have a responsibility to properly care for our historic properties across the state. In recent months, OHS has seen failing roofs, numerous plumbing problems, expensive boiler and chiller repairs, worn out HVAC systems, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Providing a proper work environment for our staff and giving our guests a first-class experience starts with maintaining our physical assets.”
The OHS also worked with State Rep. Ty Burns (R-Pawnee) and State Sen. Chuck Hall (R-Perry) to file HB3802 and SB1368, respectively. The bills would allow the OHS to directly purchase light-duty trucks for use at museums and historic sites across Oklahoma.
The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.