Democracy was in action in South Webster Monday night.
Over 30 citizens were in attendance for the regularly scheduled village council session to voice their concerns over the village’s proposal to sell the South Webster Senior Citizens Center, the building where council, as well as the Bloom Township Trustees call home.
Mayor Maribeth Dalton started the meeting saying the village was under a fiscal watch in the past by the State Auditor’s Office. She said the state agency visits the village frequently and monitors the financial health of the village periodically, even though they are now off the emergency watch list by the state.
Dalton said the recommendation to sell came from the auditor’s office, due to the need to pull funds from the village general fund to help fund the Senior center. She noted later in the meeting, the cost to operate the building runs around $5,500 per year with utilities and insurance. She stressed this figure does not include any maintenance costs.
“We have put it off,” Dalton said of the auditor’s recommendation. “It is not something we want to do.” She noted in order to break even the village would need to rent the building eight times per month. She said that is not happening at this time.
She said if the village does not figure out a way to sustain the building on its own, or sell it, the auditor’s office will put the village back on watch. She also noted that there is a risk of losing village status when that happens.
Although there seemed to be rumors of some negotiations of the selling of the property, Dalton said the village has not talked to anyone at this time. She said they have two options if they were to move forward with the selling of the building. The first would be to sell the property outright through the Scioto County Land bank; the second is to advertise in the newspaper for eight weeks and take closed bids. “We chose to do the eight weeks and open it up to more people,” Dalton said.
Members of the village were able to speak their opinions, lasting about an hour, with people voicing their concerns and ideas. One idea that seemed to generate support from both residents as well as the village leaders was putting property tax levy on the ballot for the voters to decide.
Village resident and former mayor and councilman Rodney Barnett spoke warning the village that if they do sell the property it will put them at a risk of not getting any grants from the county Community Block Grant program in the future. He said while a member of council, he wrote the grant that brought the senior center to the village. He said the county commissioners awarded the village $90,000 for the center. “Will any reasonable board of commissioners continue to give you money?,” Barnett asked council. “It will jeopardize any more money coming to this community.”
He said the commissioners thought favorably towards the village and does not want to see that relationship end. He also asked where council will call home if the building is sold.
Another former council member, Merrit Smith spoke saying he believes everyone has the same objective. He said the people present are all neighbors, family and friends, saying they need to work together to work things out and save the center, noting the tax levy is the best approach to the situation. “It will pass,” he said. “We need to walk out of here with a plan.”
Smith was asked if he could serve as a member of council again to fill one of two empty seats. He said he would if his wife does not object. Dalton asked those present if anyone else would be interested. A number of hands raised. She then said for all those interested to attend the April 8 meeting at 7 pm. and the village will look into filling those vacant positions.
As for the tax levy, Dalton asked if community members present would be interested in forming a funding committee for the building. Several volunteers also raised their hands on this as well.
Former council member Leanne Kinker-Johnson spoke saying she was on council when it was in the fiscal watch. She noted the village can sell the building if that is their option. She also said “a lot of us have grown up together,” naming a few names of people in attendance. “We’re all family.”