Thursday, October 8, 2009

Winterville Goes Old School (redux)

The City of Winterville recently purchased an old, unused school building from the Clarke County School District. The ostensible purpose is for the city to refurbish the building and use it for various community purposes. While I’m sure that I am in the minority among Winterville area residents on this one, I still think it is a bad idea.

As noted previously, I can certainly see why the CCSD unloaded the property, as it represented a maintenance and liability nightmare. Why it saw fit to do so for so nominal a price, while incessantly howling about being under-funded, is another matter, however, as the price paid by Winterville was $1 (the tax assessment on the property was over $1 million, which I found absurd by the way). Be that as it may, what I cannot see is why Winterville was so eager to take the property.

From the Banner-Herald article to which I linked above come these quotes:

"Until we do an inspection, we don't have any idea what we're dealing with," said City Councilwoman Mary Quinn.

In other words, the building, which has not been used regularly for decades, contains lead paint as a certainty and may also house any number of other potentially hazardous materials. Just a though on my part, but shouldn’t this point have been resolved before taking possession of the property?


The cost of architectural work could range from $125,000 to $167,000, according to [chairman of the rehabilitation committee Bob] White, but actually completing the work may run $1 million to $1.5 million.

Therein lies the rub. According to the Census Bureau, the most recent estimate (July 2008) for Winterville’s population is 1187. According to the Winterville municipal clerk, the FY 2010 budget for the city is $515,258. Assuming the higher figure given for the expected cost of renovations (a safe bet given the nature of things), a quick bit of math reveals a per capita expenditure of $1264 (as opposed to the per capita budget figure of $434). Thus, this one project will cost approximately triple the city’s entire expenditures for the current fiscal year.

What I have not seen in the news coverage of the issue is how Winterville plans to pay for any of this. According to the Clarke County Tax Commissioner’s web site, the city’s property tax millage rate has remained constant at 2.9 mills since at least 2001. Given the fact that Winterville is essentially a bedroom community with only a few businesses, how can it possibly pay for such a project without significantly jacking up its millage rate? The only answer that presents itself to me is by trying to get others to pay for the project through federal and/or state grants or through SPLOST funds (given the train wreck that is the Tennis Center site selection process, I wouldn’t count on there being much support for that approach elsewhere in the county). Admittedly, there may be some funding mechanism in place of which I am unaware but, if so, no one has mentioned it.

Finally, this is from a message on the Winterville Yahoo newsgroup

. . . The first in a series of community meetings is scheduled for Thursday, November 5, at 7 PM, in the Winterville Depot. The express purpose of this initial forum will be to gather ideas from citizens regarding possible uses of the school building when the rehabilitation process is completed.

Members of the Historic Winterville School Restoration Committee will conduct this public meeting so that area residents may share their suggestions and concepts regarding potential uses for the school building. Initial renovation plans for the two story building are in the formative stage, thus it is very important for local citizens to voice opinions and share the vision of restoration.

Plans for public input are all well and good, except for the fact that they reveal that there currently exist no firm plans for how the building is to be used upon completion of the renovations.

Thus, we are faced with the situation where the potential downside in terms of hazardous materials within the building is unknown, the cost of renovating the building is approximately three times the city’s annual budget (not to mention the ongoing operating and maintenance costs), the source of the funds to complete said renovations is unknown, and the community is still unsure as to how the structure is to be used.

Someone please tell me again why this is such a good idea.

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