McIntosh Mirror: Reflecting news in the Tosh

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Light-up McIntosh December 15

Light-up McIntosh will begin at the Civic Center at 6:30 p.m. The event will host Santa Clause and an area choir from six local churches will sing.

05.31.07 -- School seeks council's help for a new building

By CHER PHILLIPS

Listen to the May 31, 2007 Town Council workshop:
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(Editor's note: The sound quality on this file is a little wobbly due to a microphone setting.)





The McIntosh Town Council wants to know if residents would like to make a long-term commitment to the McIntosh Area Charter Elementary School by taking measures to help school officials build a new school.

The council met tonight in a public workshop attended by about 18 residents to discuss ideas about partnering with McIntosh School to build a new school building that would be K-5 with two rooms per class.

Local school officials hit a wall in their efforts to obtain a USDA loan when they discovered the USDA required them to own the land on which the new school building would be built.

The school stands on land where McIntosh School originally stood until the 70's when it was taken apart and the bricks moved off as salvage. In 1958, the town's old school closed. The county school board gave the land to the town, and eventually, the building caved in on itself due to neglect.

Now, some residents want to rebuild the school.

McIntosh Area School is a charter school, operating in town for about five years now. Henry Nelson said the school has saved about $100,000 to date. But they would need an estimated $1.2 million for the school they are hoping to build.

The council met with town residents to toss around options. No decisions were made. Though several options were discussed as potential ways to aid the school in its growth.

Option one: Giving back the land

The first option is that the town give the land back to the school.

If the town council decided to take this path, then the school would own the land. If the school was not able to finish paying the back its building loan, then the buildings and the land would be forfeited. The town would not get the land back.

Some town officials had concerns about giving the land away, questioning its legality as well as what the will of the people might be. Mayor Marsha Strange and Council Vice President Howard Walkup, who recently benefited from the council rezoning their individual properties, both objected to the officials giving away town property.

Marion County Property Appraiser's Website gives the current value of the property including buildings at $512,692, but the land itself is valued at $148,290. The appraiser's site also shows that since 2004, the property value has nearly doubled with the school on site. The bulk of the increased value to the town is not in the land, but in the buildings and miscellaneous improvements.

Council response was mixed but not negative.

Council President Frank Ciotti said he wanted to know what the constituents thought about the town council committing finances to the school.

Councilwoman Eva Jo Callahan said she supported helping the school build. She said that since she moved to McIntosh five years ago, two businesses have closed. But more than two businesses have left town. The gas station closed in the last year, and the grocery store closed earlier this week. The town also has gone through two restaurants in the cafe building in the last five years, and Ursula's Beauty Shop closed when she sold her building.

Callahan said that the school might help keep the town from drying up.

"You have to support what you have to keep the town going," she said. "I think the school should be there."

Councilwoman Eunice Smith, who's been on the council or the town clerk, for the last 28 years, said she thought the town should hold on to the land.

Walkup was not in favor of giving the land to the school and said he did not think it was legal. Like Strange, he said he was charged with protecting the town's assets.

"I don't want to give the assets of the town away," Walkup said. "The day's coming when the town's going to need property. Where's it going to get it, if it gives that away?"

When the other council members asked him what the town would need it for, he said a recreation center or a town hall.

Walkup also asked why someone with the school had inquired how much he was selling his land for when the options before the council tonight included the town financially supporting the school.

"How come you came to me and asked to buy my land if you don't have the money to buy it?" Walkup said.

Nelson explained that the school officials were just weighing every options. Later, Jody Smith said to Walkup that he'd appreciated the support the council had always given the school.

"I don’t want the council to think we’re not getting cooperation. We hope we have the support further on. As a parent, I live up there by the school, we have no bigger asset," Smith said.

One of the reasons the land south of town where the school and the doctor's office currently stands is such an attractive location is that it is already zoned governmental. Seeking rezoning other land in McIntosh would mean about a two year wait period for the school.

Councilman Lee Deaderick introduced the idea, hedging it with a plan to have a new town hall built alongside the school, pitching it as a place where the town could provide a proper ADA facility for voting.

Strange said she always hoped the 6.3 acres of land on where the school would like to build on be used for a town hall or government center.

But some residents present did not agree with this idea.

Henry Nelson said that if the town had wanted to build a new town hall, they would have done it before now, since it has the power to increase taxes.

Other residents were unsure of the logistics of having a town office in the same area as a school. June Glass said she was not comfortable with the idea since many schools have closed campuses. Strange agreed with her.

But Deaderick said he thought the town could find a way to separate the buildings to have a town office.

Option Two: Taking on the loan

The next option would be for the town to take out the USDA loan.

School officials learned that a municipality would have a much better chance of acquiring a loan. This scenario would mean the town would take out the low-interest loan at 4 percent interest and pay it back over 20 years. The school would pay the town about $60,000 a year from their capital outlay until the loan was paid off.

The advantage to this option would be if the school closed and could not finish paying the loan, the town would not lose the land or the building. It would have to finish paying off the loan. But the land would not revert back to Marion County School Board, as it would in the first scenario if the town gave the school the land.

The disadvantage is that McIntosh is simply not as financially stable as it used to be.

In the 90's, McIntosh had well over a $1 million in its coffers. But after years of tax rollbacks and a lack of water rate increases, the town's savings is down to the $500,000 range.

The current council has tossed around the idea of building a new town office when their rent was increased this year. They'd always had a handshake deal of a couple hundred dollars a month for their office space. But the current building's owner, Murray Musselman, raised the rent because he said he needed the building to break even and eventually make a profit if he was going to keep it.


Option three: Doing nothing

The third option would be that the town and the school go on as they have in the past, leasing the land to the school.

But school officials said they have capital outlay money. While they don't have a deadline for making a decision, Nelson said he saw no reason to wait to begin the process of building a school.

Residents spoke in favor of the school, telling the council that they thought the town would be an asset to the community.

"I would have given my eyeteeth to send my children there," Linda McCollum said. "You have to experience it to appreciate it."

Principal Shirley Lane said last year the school had 80 students, but they expect 100 next year. She said about 19 of them have McIntosh addresses.

Walkup was among the critics of the plan. He pointed out that there were not many McIntosh students who went to the McIntosh Area School.

Deaderick pointed out that one way to look at the number of students was that McIntosh was providing an education to students from the surrounding communities and McIntosh children were benefiting from the $4,700 the school gets per child, enabling the school to operate.

The next step in the process will be fact finding. Deaderick, Strange and Henry will meet to hash out what the council's options are for the school. Other council members said they want to hear from individual community members. Do residents want the town to make a financial commitment to school? If so, do residents want the council to give the school the land (if this is legally possible) or would they like to see the town partner with the school by obtaining a loan.

Another consideration is that the town does not have a hurricane shelter that would safely withstand more than a Category Three hurricane.

Glass said that if the school got a loan from FEMA to build the auditorium, they might be able to build one that could serve as a shelter against strong storms.

Harris Fellman suggested the town have a community meeting to toss around options, fact find and answer questions.

"All this council has to determine is do we go all in with them, or do we not? What best serves the people of McIntosh?" Deaderick said. "Tonight we’re talking about concepts, which needed talking about."

posted by Cher @ 9:54 PM,

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Editor and Publisher:

I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile

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The primary purpose of this blog is to accurately reflect what happens in town public meetings and dispel rumors. I record the meetings and make them available for download. One of the goals of this blog is to offer residents a place to voice opinions. The comments, views and opinions expressed there are not necessarily those of the editor.

 
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