Community center project questioned

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By Patrick Smith

INDEPENDENCE — The proposed funding of a community center project in the 2015 Grayson County budget was a controversial topic of discussion during the Board of Supervisors’ last two budget workshops.
On June 4, Oldtown Supervisor Kenneth Belton directed attention to the Flatridge Community Center, for which the board has allocated $8,300 in its 2015 budget to support a roofing project. The board had also debated the funding at its budget meeting the week before.

At Wilson District Supervisor Eddie Rosenbaum’s request, the $8,300 for a new roof for the community center is listed under the category of “Local Support” in the budget. Rosenbaum lives in the Flatridge community.
“Flatridge don’t have anything,” said Rosenbaum, after being questioned about the funding. “I don’t know why this seems to be a sore place, but we have to go to Sugar Grove or over at Rugby just to get to a general store. The community center’s all there is.”
Rosenbaum commended the work of Elmer Russell for maintaining and updating the facilities at the community center, which is the previous Flatridge School, and fixing vehicles to raffle off during events.
“This roof is coming from the Mennonites out in Wytheville, and it’s got a 40-year warranty,” Rosenbaum explained. “Elmer is willing to do all the labor free, furnish the men to do it free. All we’re buying is the metal and the screws and the strips that go on.”
“This is a win-win,” he continued. “And if we wanna tear it down, then the community will have nothing… It’s a no-brainer to me. I feel like we need it. We need it in the community, and it’s good for the county, too.”
Belton replied that “It’s not a sore subject – it’s being fair.”
“It’s not our building,” Belton said. “It was deeded to the community, and it’s deeded they take care of it. My question is, if we’re still going to take care of it, why did we deed all these buildings to these communities?”
Rosenbaum said he wasn’t asking for regular maintenance, just a roof.
Elk Creek Supervisor Brenda Sutherland then joined the discussion and pointed to the lease agreement.
“I think it is stated in the lease that the community is responsible for [the building],” said Sutherland. “Elk Creek Fire Department put a roof on our old school. Fries Fire and Rescue put windows in Providence School, and nobody asked for anything because they know they’re responsible for that. It’s nothing against Flatridge – it’s just about what the lease stated.”
Rosenbaum admitted he had not had an opportunity to read the lease. He was later furnished a copy at the meeting.
Supervisor At-Large David Sexton said he saw merit to both sides of the argument. “The leveraged dollars coming back does help it a little bit, in that the Flatridge Community Center is doing the labor,” he said.
Sexton added that Gus Hill, owner of Hill’s Trucking Company, was willing to throw in a year’s worth of coal to heat the community center. He estimated that amount of coal would normally cost around $4,000, and the labor provided by the community would further increase the value of the project.
“Gus puts a lot of money back in communities, so he was looking at ways he could help,” said Sexton. “So we’re looking at getting somewhere right around $20,000 in return.”
Sexton said he had been visiting Grayson’s community centers recently to weigh their needs. He added that it was a “tough call” to balance fairness in assisting everyone, but said he felt providing funding for the Flatridge Community Center’s new roof was a good cause.
Despite his disagreement, Belton said he wouldn’t vote against the budget just because of the funding allocated to the community center project, “But when I vote on something, I want it to be what’s fair for everybody.”
“It may be a good thing to do, but I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” agreed Sutherland.
Sexton said he felt the board “opened the door” for funding requests from community centers when it appropriated $19,000 earlier this year to assist with operational funding to help the Grant Community Computing Center operate through June. “Both situations [funding the computer center and the Flatridge Community Center] are good situations and are the right thing to do.”
Sexton and Rosenbaum both stressed that the funding for the Flatridge Community Center was a “one-time deal.”
County Administrator Jonathan Sweet, who abstained from much of the discussion, pointed out that fundraising is an increasing challenge for many county organizations. He said in future budgets he expects more requests from groups across the county, and urged the supervisors to carefully evaluate those requests.
It was brought to the supervisors’ attention earlier in the meeting that requested funding in community development for the 2015 budget had increased by 107 percent over the previous year.
“You’ve got to manage expectations,” he advised.
Sexton agreed with Sweet that the board needed to be “cautious” when considering community requests, but added that some organizations, such as the Grant Community Computing Center, put money back into the communities and will need continued funding to provide services to citizens.
Sutherland said she felt the computer center could not be compared to the Flatridge Community Center, and repeated that the Flatridge community had signed an agreement to take care of their building.
“When it’s stated in a lease and signed that the community has to take care of the center, that’s what is expected,” she said. “There are a number of people, businesses, EMS, those kinds of things that use [the computer center]. To me, that’s a valued community service.”

Computer Center Ownership
Later, Sweet reported that the Grant Community Computing Center could be seeing a change in ownership soon.
He said the computer center, which has been under county ownership since the expiration of a grant that funded its operations until last year, has an organization interested in taking over operations from the county.
County staff has recommended $25,000 for the center in the 2015 budget, less than the requested $39,000.
After the county assumed ownership of the center, usage fees were implemented and the computer center was required to seek additional means of generating revenue to help offset operational costs.
“We received a proposal from a community organization interested in running the center,” Sweet said, noting that he had not had the opportunity to examine and respond the document. “It is a legitimate letter of interest, and it would be wise for us to consider and look at it because it is a very logical and salient proposal.”
Sweet said he would bring more information before the board at a future meeting after he has met with all involved parties.
“It fits nicely to the recommended budget amount,” he continued. “There’s still a lot of questions that we need answered in respect to that, so we’ll continue to get due diligence in respect to that, but I would say at this juncture I’m optimistic looking at the community organization that’s submitted that.”