Group created to build railroad museum dissolves amid audit

Group created to build railroad museum dissolves amid audit

AMARILLO - Thousands of dollars of taxpayer money and the future of the old Santa Fe depot are in question as Potter County audits an organization created to preserve history.

Right now Santa Fe Railway Historical Museum Incorporated is in the process of dissolving, while Potter County audits its finances.

The Santa Fe railroad is a huge part of Amarillo's history. So much so that since 2006, the Potter County Commission has devoted close to $400,000, in $50,000 increments, to helping preserve that history by investing the Santa Fe Railway Historical Museum board.

"We were trying to determine whether to allocate the $50,000 [again], then started asking some questions in terms of where those dollar amounts were today," Potter County Commissioner Mercy Murguia said.

The commission demanded financial reports, but were not satisfied with what the Santa Fe Historical Railway Museum offered.

"So at the last commission meeting what we did as a follow up was request an audit which they have complied with," Murguia said.

President of the Santa Fe Historical Railway Museum Walter Wolfram announced the non-profit is dissolving just ahead of the audit.

"This 501(c)(3) was of a single purpose and that purpose can't be achieved now," he said. "The process of disbanding will take a couple of months."

Wolfram says the county audit has nothing to do with why the museum board is dissolving. He says the group met many challenges as they tried to find a location for the museum, and secure funding. Thier last hope for a location dissolved, Wolfram said, when the city of Amarillo purchased the Santa Fe Depot in downtown for $2.6 million.

"The blessing is that it won't be torn down by the city," he said.

The museum was originally planned to be built on the second floor of the Santa Fe building downtown, but the non-profit decided that location was not possible because of the layout of the building.

2012 tax documents show the non-profit has over $500,000 in "public support." Wolfram says about $200,000 of that is from private donors and will be returned now that the organization is calling it quits.

"That will be managed by an outside CPA firm, and the Amarillo Area Foundation," he said. "We distance ourselves from this money."

As to where all of Potter County's money has gone...

"We have engineers reports, we have appraisers reports, we have architects reports, we have a contract with the Panhandle Plains Museum that we must pay, we have a contract with the West Texas A&M History Department, and we have to pay for the services of the Amarillo Area Foundation fundraising team," Wolfram said.

Tax documents do not show any salaries for the organization's nine board members. Wolfram says that was not spent on museum matters, were premium's for the organization's insurance.

The county auditor is still in the process of confirming all of those statements.

"We will press forward until we feel the questions have been answered on behalf of the taxpayers of this county," Murguia said.

As for the Santa Fe depot, Wolfram hopes his dream of a museum is still possible.

"I hope it's not over," he said. "I hope it's a new beginning with the city."

Amarillo City Manager Jarrett Atkinson said the property is currently on lease to the man who sold it to the city, and plans for its future are still preliminary.

"One of many potential options would be intermodal transportation, including the potential for Amtrak service," Atkinson said. "Even if that were not to occur, having and preserving the property opens up many opportunities in the future."

Potter County expects the audit to finished and presented to the commission at their next meeting in two weeks.