Village of West Jeff purchases church property

Messenger photo by Jeff Pfeil
West Jefferson village council voted Dec. 19 to purchase the Zion Lutheran Church property at 221 S. Center St. for use as a community center.

(Posted Dec. 22, 2016)

By Sandi Latimer, Staff Writer

West Jefferson village council members have authorized Mayor Ray Martin to take steps to acquire the Zion Lutheran Church property for use as a community center.

The action at the Dec. 19 council meeting wasn’t without opposition as a 6-1 vote was cast to start purchase proceedings of the church at 221 S. Center St. The purchase price is $160,000. The lone negative vote came from Randy Otis who wanted to table the issue until the Jan. 3 meeting so the public could offer comment.

One member of the public did offer his views—former council member Ron Garver who questioned the price tag and stressed to council, “You must have a plan” for its use.

Plans call for the village to pay for the property with money from the Parks and Recreation Fund, which Martin said contains $170,000.

Garver criticized the cost, claiming it is nearly as much as a 25-acre site the village once considered buying.

“There’s no grant money out there,” he said. “You’re going to spend a million and a half dollars to build a gym, a parking lot, and water and sewer hookups.”

When Garver was on council, he advocated for a community center with recreational facilities and financed by a 0.25 percent income tax increase.

“You have to put together a plan for what it will be used for,” he repeated.

Council President Steve Johnston said the building has a greater use as a community center.

“There’s more to a community center than a gym. We can use this for concerts and other music programs,” he said, noting that the organ and concert grand piano will stay in the building.

“And the ‘Movies in the Park’ have been plagued with rain,” Johnston continued, referring to a village-sponsored summer activity. “We can have them inside, sell popcorn and not worry about the mud.”

He assured Garver, “We’re not buying a building just because there’s a ‘For Sale’ sign in front of it.”

Garver reiterated his stand for public meetings and putting the issue before the voters, which drew comments from the current administration.

Martin said a former public official told him, “If you can get it for that price, better jump on it.”

Council member Lorie Carfagno said she talked to village residents about Garver’s plan to put the question before the electorate.

“We would not have been voting for a community center,” she said. “We would have been voting for a tax increase, and people don’t want to pay more taxes.”

She added, “What’s wrong with buying a building you can use now?”

Martin said to Garver, “We appreciate all you’ve done, but we are doing a lot of thinking of how to solve the problem now.”

About the decision to buy the church property, Martin added, “It’s better for the community. We don’t have to get a loan, and we don’t have to charge them to come through the doors.”

The village has been in negotiations with the church since February. The 6,000 square-foot building sits on 2.622 acres and is handicap accessible.

Martin said the village’s public service director, John Mitchell, a professional engineer, looked at the building, and Marci Darlington, parks and recreation director, has drawn up a long list of activities that can be done in the building.

In other business, council:

  • approved the appointment of Richard King to a three-year term on the Planning and Zoning Commission;
  • authorized the village to participate in the state’s Cooperative Purchasing Program for 2017; and
  • decided not to ask for a hearing before the Ohio Liquor Control Board pertaining to the application for a C1, C2 (beer and wine sales) liquor permit for the Dollar General Store at 45 Taylor Blair Road.

Council’s next meeting will be held Jan. 3, one day later than the usual first Monday of the month due to the New Year’s Day holiday schedule.

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