07/07/11 — Irresponsible: City's creative financing and suspect logic have bought you a building

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Irresponsible: City's creative financing and suspect logic have bought you a building

OK, there simply has to be some deal behind the scenes that the members of the Goldsboro City Council in general and Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen in particular know that they are not telling their bosses, the taxpayers.

Otherwise, why in the world in an economic downturn would a public body that is facing a deficit itself as well as enough concerns about money that it is curbing expenses on law enforcement and fire protection, swoop in and take on a building with demonstrated structural concerns -- and pay too much for it?

It was not because there was a great outcry from the community -- other than the obvious support that should come from the Arts Council of Wayne County, which will receive a nice nest egg from the deal.

The majority of the rest of the city, including several local organizations, were lukewarm on the idea of using funds that had been squirreled away for a much grander project -- a new convention center -- on a building that few people actually think can actually effectively house an Air Force museum without considerable investment.

Even Wayne County officials, although supportive of the idea of an Air Force museum, said they simply could not consider such an endeavor now, in an economic downturn that was requiring them to look closely at necessities versus luxuries.

And quite frankly city leaders, this is a luxury and and one that was not well thought out, either.

The city buying the building has allowed the Arts Council of Wayne County to create a cushion of funding that will help the organization to continue to develop arts in the community and it will allow the city to add shine and sparkle to another building downtown.

And that would be great -- if the community had decided that it wanted to invest more money in the arts in the county and had voted to have more of its tax dollars directed there. But we did not.

And as worthy a cause as the arts might be in Wayne County, this is not the time to make a purchase that really does not reflect the true market value of the property. Times are bad right now. Large real estate purchases -- especially of buildings that need $1.4 million in repairs to become Air Force museums -- are bargains right now. If there was competition for the property, and a private entity was willing to pay the asking price the city paid for the museum and the land, it would have been better to allow that bidder to buy it and for the city to build an Air Force museum somewhere where planes could actually be on the grounds or inside the building.

Also, just like in the regular real estate market, you can take advantage of "good deals" if your financial house is solid. If you are facing cuts, trims and some red in your upcoming budget, you just do not have the resources to take advantage of the market, not right now. That is reality.

And then there is the reference to what the city will do with the building if no other entities offer their support in the construction of an Air Force museum on the site.

They will sell it, city leaders said after Tuesday's vote.

Really? You are going to use public money on real estate speculation? No matter where the funds came from, that doesn't seem to be too wise a plan.

It very much seems like there is a fever in the city to spend money. First it was a multimillion-dollar downtown renovation and then multiple attempts at a recreation center.

And now, a speculative piece of land for an Air Force museum -- on a hill, with little available land outside for static displays and a questionable interior that might or might not make a suitable canvas for a museum.

The museum concept on which this idea is based is the Mighty 8th museum in Savannah, Ga., a sprawling warehouse-like structure located in a resort area with large amounts of land surrounding it -- flat land. The museum has a mid-sized paid staff and lots of volunteers as well as a nice budget.

There is no comparison -- and to suggest there is one, is simply irresponsible.

And while all these things might be good ideas at a later date, they simply are not what a city that is facing a debt issue and other concerns that are stretching its budget should be considering -- no matter how "good a deal" it might seem on the surface.

No one is against progress in Goldsboro.

No one really is against the idea of an Air Force museum.

And no one, certainly, is against a worthwhile organization like the Arts Council of Wayne County getting some help in solidifying its ability to do good in this community.

But this is not the time. No way. No how.

Community members should keep a close eye on this project and the contracts and discussions related to it and the city's involvement in the arts council's move downtown and the building renovation.

And they should remember that while the county is looking hard at its capital budget -- and has saved for years to build up resources to be able to handle the costs of building and the operation of new construction -- the city is willy nilly looking for ways to drop taxpayer dollars.

One way is responsible, reasoned.

The other is decision-making that should be examined, hard, on the next Election Day.

Published in Editorials on July 7, 2011 12:10 PM