‘Donated’ buildings costly to cities

Published 12:00 pm Monday, September 14, 2015

Buildings, even new ones, require regular maintenance and repairs. At some point, the cost of maintaining the building will exceed the benefit of keeping the building. At that point the building will be renovated, replaced or abandoned. The replacement/renovation can reduce, but never eliminate the cost of maintenance.

The Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation (OLCHF) wants to “give” Oxford the Burns-Belfry Museum (BBM). The “donation” is not unexpected. Groups adopt restoration projects as a hobby but when the restoration is complete, they find that the finished project does not generate enough income to support ongoing operation and maintenance. Without the maintenance, the properties will revert to the deteriorated state. The solution is easy — give it to the city and let the taxpayers assume the cost of maintenance. This frees the group to find another project.

The OLCHF was responsible for the procurement and restoration of the Lamar House. It then transferred the house to the city.

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Cedar Oaks was restored by the forerunners of the Cedar Oaks Guild (COG). After restoration the building was given to the city.

The last time I checked, the city had an annual maintenance budget in excess of $75,000 for the two buildings. The addition of the BBM will add at least $25,000 for the maintenance of the buildings.

While there may be some subjective value to the city, I have seen nothing that indicates having the three renovated buildings has had a significant impact on tourism or local use by anyone other than the groups that renovated the buildings. The actual cost of maintaining and operating the buildings far exceeds any income generated by the facilities. Should the city keep accepting these “gifts?” Do the residents receive $100,000-plus worth of benefits from the city ownership of these properties?

Before accepting the Burns-Belfry, the city should do a cost benefit analysis to justify the increased expenses associated with accepting the gift. Maybe it also should do a cost-benefit analysis of the two other properties and return them to the previous owners if they are not providing value to the city and taxpayers.

Could the money spent on the maintenance of these buildings be diverted to a joint venture with the YMCA to provide an indoor pool for the community? Could it be used for the leisure lifestyle programs rather than charging the senior citizens that use those programs — a move that was recently considered?

Accepting Burns-Belfry should only be done if it is beneficial to the city, not as a relief to the organization that restored the property.

Terry League