Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 2, 2011

Letter to the editor: Princeton City Hall move a done deal

for the Princeton Times

PRINCETON — To further my letter to the editor in the Princeton Times, Fri, Oct. 28, 2011.

In that letter, I stated that I thought the “special meeting” of the City Council on Oct. 24, 2011, for public input on the purchase of the old community bank building,  and the moving of city hall to that location was a sham and a complete waste of time for those who attended. If you recall, the majority of the people at the meeting who expressed thier opinion were against the purchase.

However, the city council approved the go-ahead for the  purchase  of the building,  by a 4-3 vote.

In justifying their votes, the four approving  members arguments were:

1. They  had “wanted” the city hall to be relocated (back) downtown, for some time.

2. They had talked to lots of people (before the meeting), and many of those people liked the idea.

3. Relocating  the police station to the old bank building  would help clean up Mercer Street.

4. Relocating the city hall to the old bank building would revitalize the downtown area.

5. The plan was progressive.

6. That the approving members had facts and figures that the people who opposed the plan did not have.

7. That “the city could afford” to go ahead with the purchase (and the rehab) of this old fixer-upper, at a cost of some $2.5 million dollars.

8. That the city could recover some of the cost with the sale of the land that the current city hall and fire station sits on.

The reasoning of the four approving council members sounds good, huh?  So, let’s take a closer look at their reasoning.

1. Wanting city hall  back  downtown doesn’t seem, to me, to be a justifiable reason for this action. The city had just recently spent some $300,000 to upgrade the current city hall, and the members knew this. Wants and wishes should never  be a consideration for spending taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

2. Lots of people (not at the meeting) liked the idea of relocating the city hall downtown. How was this subject bought up to those people? E.g. Would you like to see the city hall downtown (without explanation)? Did these people even think before giving the quick, and expected, reply? It would be like asking if they would  like West Virginia to play their games in Princeton. Were the costs even brought up? Was the recent cost of  some $300,000 to upgrade the current city hall mentioned? I would think the way the question was asked  would influence their reply.

3. Relocating the police station downtown will help to clean up Mercer Street. Do these people think the police will be hanging out on the corner of Mercer and Center streets?  Why not just do the smart thing, and move the the police department into the old library building, on Center Street? It would give the police a good line of sight, and close enough for camera viewing of Mercer Street. The city would save a heck of a lot of money by just doing this. The very big plus, plus, plus side of using the old library, and the building next door, is that the city already owns both of those  buildings.

4. Relocating the city hall to the old bank building will revitalize downtown. Think so? The move  would only bring a total of about 35 police and employees to the area, and they  probably brown bag their lunch and shop at Wal-Mart.  

 On the other hand:  the New River College, who wanted the building, would bring up to 900 students, plus staff, to the area. The college would really revitalize the area. The college would bring  in, and support, book stores, resturants, barber shops, clothing  stores, dollar stores, discount stores, auto repair, Salvation Army store, motorcycle and bike sales, jewelry stores, pawn shops, post office, apartment rentals, and bring a lot of  other business into the area. The college, with all of its associated people, would increase the amount of revenue,  business, profits, and tax money, and very importantly ... bring in more jobs.

5. The plan is progressive. Think so? Just how would the current plan be more progressive than the college bringing in 900 students, and staff, which would create many more jobs, and opportunities?

6. The approving members had more facts and figures than those opposing the plan. Sure they did. However, there were handouts available that could have been given out. These handouts had been prepared by the city manager, (and backed up by professionals), opposing the plan. Because, as the city manager said, “In my opinion the city can not afford the purchase at this time.”  However, the four city council members approving the plan voted not to let these handouts be given out. So, the people opposing the plan were denied these facts, and surely the members did not give these facts to all of the people they had spoken to, before the meeting.

7. The city could afford the purchase and move. Can it? The city manager did not think it could. The building cost $1 million dollars. The upgrade required will cost another $1.5 million.  If (or when) a decision is made to move the fire department to the old bank building,  it will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of another  $6 million to $7 million . There must be, and will continue to be (over the next 20 to 25 years) more important projects that the city could use these millions and millions of dollars for.

8. The city could recover some of these  cost by selling the land the current city hall sits on. Think about it. If they sell the land the current city hall sits on, they will have to move the fire department to either the current location of police department, or to the old bank building. Either choice will cost lots, lots and lots of taxpayer money to retrofit  either of these two buildings.

Further information on this move,  as I know it:

1. The city will obtain a loan to buy,  and to upgrade, the old bank building to required standards.

2. The city  will hire a bond counsel.

3. A building commission will be established to actually oversee the purchase, and restoration of the  building.

4. The loan will be in the name of this commission, and the commission will actually own the building.

5. The commission will have the power to appoint committees hire any person, or contractor, and set their compensation, as they deem necessary, to accomplish the upkeep, and management of the building.

6. The city will lease the building from the commission.

7. The city council can only make suggestions concerning the building, but the commission will make all of the decisions.

8. After the loan is paid off (in some 20-25 years), the commission will have the option of selling the building to the city of Princeton, or to anyone else!

The upgrade is to begin sometime after Jan. 9, 2012.

After the required upgrade is completed, only the city hall and the police department will move into the old bank building.

John E. Dills