SOUTH DUNDAS – The curator of a model ship museum in South Dundas says he may close or move his collection to New York State is the face of crushing municipal taxes.
Bert Cunningham runs the Doran Bay Model Ship Museum out of his home on County Road 2, just east of Iroquois.
The museum, which is open four months of the year, has over 120 model ships and is touted as the largest private collection in North America. Cunningham says it has about 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a year.
Cunningham told South Dundas council Tuesday night his taxes have had “unacceptable” increases of 387 per cent in the last six years. He had a 93 per cent increase in property taxes in 2014 alone.
He accuses the province of having a tax policy that discriminates against private museums.
But the township’s hands are somewhat tied as the increases are due to provincial calculations through the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) and how it classifies his museum, which is on the first floor of his home.
Cunningham also indirectly accused a local tourist handout of discrimination saying the “Footsteps to the Past” brochure shows all the museum sites across SD&G but leaves his off the map.
Cornwall and the Counties Tourism Executive Director Linda Wilson tells Cornwall Newswatch the brochure was a project before she arrived at the organization. According to Wilson, the Lost Villages Historical Society put the brochure together and Cornwall and the Counties Tourism helped support the society in its application for upper-government funding.
After reviewing the situation Wednesday, Wilson believes she knows why Doran is not in the brochure. “All of the participants in that (brochure) are people or assets that actually speak to the history of this region. It’s not about just being historical, it’s about being historical here (in SD&G)…all the museums that hold items or artifacts that are directly tied to the past of this region,” Wilson said.
She empathizes with the tax plight of the Doran Bay museum. “We certainly don’t want to lose any of our assets. For sure, if they need letters of support as to what their economic impact is from the tourism point-of-view, we would be more than happy to do that on their behalf,” Wilson said.
Following Cunningham’s presentation Tuesday night, South Dundas council agreed to send a letter of support for the museum to the Assessment Review Board (ARB) but it’s not allowed by municipal law to give any sort of rebate or cut on taxes.
Cunningham says an ARB hearing is scheduled for May.
If he can’t get a recalculation on his assessment, Cunningham says he will be forced to close, seek non-profit status or relocate to private museum-friendly Clayton, N.Y.
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