PORTSMOUTH — Monday night’s Portsmouth City Council session brought promising news for one local group in its attempt to build a downtown museum.
For more than months, council has weighed whether to authorize City Manager Sam Sutherland to enter into a lease agreement with the Scioto County Heritage Museum– setting up at the Marting’s annex on 5th Street.
After some deliberation between City Solicitor John Haas and Mayor Kevin Johnson, council passed the ordinance with one amendment. The amended version would require the SCHM board to receive written approval from Sutherland to make alterations to the city-owned building.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon understood the lease would be similar to what the Southern Ohio Museum had between 1979 and 2007 when it was a city building. Regardless of who owns the building, she is excited by the development.
“I think in this case, the building is just sitting vacant at this point,” she said, believing it to be vacant for at least the nine years she has lived in Portsmouth. “I feel like this is a good use of that space.”
The lease will be for five years, but early termination would be a possibility if a purchasing offer was made to the city. From there, the city would have 180 days to notify the museum of the purchase.
According to the lease, the purchaser would pay 75% of the value of improvements made to the premises by the museum.
SCHM President John McHenry told the council previously that he would like to see the museum become a long-term fixture within the area’s historical organizations. He envisioned additional leases when this five-year agreement concludes.
“We’re putting in, not taking out. We’re in the parade, not on the sidewalk watching,” McHenry said during a May 10 council session. “A lot of people that are watching are giving us the thumbs up.”
In other city developments, the council approved the 16% salary increase for Community Director Tracy Shearer. The matter was not a unanimous decision with Johnson and 6th Ward Councilman Dennis Packard voting against it.
The mayor asked questions to both Sutherland and Haas regarding what the raises would mean to the city’s fiscal watch status and sentiment among those in the city building.
Prior discussions indicated Portsmouth could clear that status this year, but that further conversations needed to take place. Sutherland said a meeting was in the works with the state auditor’s office in the following three weeks to discuss its progress and that these increases would not have an impact on the fiscal watch.
“As long as the forecast supports financially what we’re doing, we’ll be fine,” he said, adding that consistency was also needed in its forecasting.
Haas added to his prior comments made during a March 22 city manager’s meeting on the raise by saying it was a “subject of much discontent.” In that meeting and also in a statement provided to the Portsmouth Daily Times, he viewed the raises for non-union supervisors such as the community director as unfair when others received none.
“I made it clear at the last council meeting (March 22) that I do not argue those lucky enough to have seen large increases are not deserving,” Haas is quoted in a March 25 article. “I merely felt it necessary to point out what it looks like from the perspective of those who have been overlooked for at least two decades when they are overlooked again.”
Council concluded the legislation portion of its session with two water-related ordinances. A first reading for a $371,000 Franklin Furnace water boost station was delivered before the council authorized the city manager to enter into an agreement with the Ohio Water Development Authority for the new water treatment plant.
Affording the $67 million project will come down to a variety of funding outlets, Sutherland said, including grant money and partial use of the $3.95 million heading to the city through the American Rescue Plan Act. Increasing water bills, currently under the state average, has also been identified as a way to reach that sum.
Sutherland said the total as he understood it was “worst case scenario,” where the hope is that number will drop as price fluctuations in the national economy stabilizes. For Johnson, it is an essential investment regardless of the sum.
“I can’t think of many more things more important than water,” the mayor said. “When you think of that price…again think of what’s more important than quality of your water.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.