Windsor: $1M won’t cover community center

Published 12:44 pm Friday, November 14, 2008

What would you do if someone wanted to give you a million dollars?

For the Town of Windsor, that benefactor is Isle of Wight County. The county wants to give the town a million dollars to build a new community center, which could include a library, post office and town administrative offices.

The trouble is, according to the interim town manager, one million dollars won’t be enough to cover the cost to build and operate the community center.

Windsor officials are now trying to figure out what to do next.

In memoranda to the town council on Sept. 19 and Nov. 7, interim Town Manager John Rowe Jr. warned that Windsor does not have the tax base to support the project. He repeated that warning to the board at its meeting Wednesday.

“The facts are that you have a limited tax base that’s primarily residential,” Rowe said. “One penny on the tax rate only generates $20,000.”

In his letters to the board, Rowe said annual debt payments for a 20-year $1 million bond would be about $100,000 a year. To finance those payments, the town would need to increase property taxes an additional five cents. Conversely, a $2 million bond would force property taxes to go up ten cents.

And therein lies the problem; Windsor’s property tax rate is currently 10 cents.

The county is seeking the town’s signature to a memorandum of understading, a legal document that would commit the town to promise to build the community center. In return, the county would donate at least $1 million to the project.

Rowe said he and his staff met with officials from James City County and the city of Williamsburg, localities that have constructed similar facilities, to discuss operating costs. They also consulted with RSMeans, a Kingston, Mass.-based company that supplies information about construction costs. After those meetings, they concluded that a new community center would cost about $3 million, not including the cost of the land.

“If you sign (the agreement with the county), and commit to a $3 million project, you’ve got more debt than you’ve got budget,” Rowe told the board Wednesday. “This will have a significant impact on your tax rate because you’ve only got one surefire thing that you can get money from, and that’s real estate tax.”

Town officials credit two members of the county Board of Supervisors — Phillip Bradshaw and Thomas Wright — with bringing the concept of a community center to Windsor. Bradshaw and Wright represent the Carrsville and Windsor districts of the county, respectively.

Both Bradshaw and Wright attended Wednesday’s meeting but left before the council took up the community center project.

“(The county) will give you the money,” Rowe said. “You’ll build the facility. The question before you, can you deliver on your part of the understanding? Yeah, you could, but you’re going to have to go in debt for it. You’re going to have to significantly increase your tax rate, not only to cover the capital cost but the ongoing operating cost.”

Councilman Wesley Garris said “somebody needs to let (the county) know where we are (financially). Granted we’re not at a final place and don’t know what we want, but I think we need to keep communication (with the county) going.”

Wright agreed that the town and the county needed to discuss the project further.

“They have not come back to us to say that they can’t afford it,” Wright said. “They haven’t said ‘can you help us more?’ or ‘is there a time limit?’ We need to have a dialogue with each other.”

Wright said one stipulation in the memorandum was that the county be allowed free use of the building twice a year. The county would pay to use the building if they needed to use it more than two times.

Another stipulation revolves around a new library. Wright said that if a new library were included in the proposed community center, the county would pay the land acquisition and construction costs for the library portion of the project. The Blackwater Regional Library would run the new library.

But he said there was no time limit.

“There’s no timetable in there for them to build it,” Wright said. “They could build it next year. They could build it five years from now.”

The town council plans to discuss the community center issue further at their next meeting, a retreat scheduled for Nov. 21.

In other news, Rowe read an announcement from Mayor Marvin Crocker Jr.’s office that the town was ramping up its efforts to hire a new town manager.

“Over the next two weeks, council will conduct a series of closed meetings at undisclosed locations for the purpose of interviewing candidates for the position of town manager,” Rowe said.

Windsor’s previous town manager, Kurt Falkenstein, retired after 11 years of service on June 30.