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Williamsport turns down state money for barn project

November 12, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WILLIAMSPORT -- Seven months ago, the state promised Williamsport $100,000 to fix up the Springfield barn.

On Monday, town officials -- worried about the repercussions of accepting the money -- said no.

The money for the barn restoration project was secured by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, through a state bond bill.

Town leaders asked Munson to try for the money. But in recent months at council meetings, Williamsport officials have been leery, concerned that state requirements could become obstacles.

"It would end up costing you more money to accept free money ..." said Edward Kuczynski, the town's attorney.

When a property eligible for the National Register of Historic Places receives bond-bill money, the owner often has to convey an historic easement to the Maryland Historical Trust. The easement makes sure that the owner will care for and restore the property, said Richard Brand, the administrator of financial assistance for the trust, which is part of the Department of Planning.

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But Mayor James G. McCleaf II said state mandates could lead to new obstacles and expenses for the town.

On Williamsport's behalf, Munson requested $250,000 for the project, but, as is common for state bond bills, the amount was knocked down to $100,000 before it was approved.

The project cost is estimated at $375,000, of which the town would pay one-third and the state was asked to cover two-thirds, according to a fact sheet for the bond-bill request.

The fact sheet refers to the 10,450-square-foot building, which houses the town museum, as the second-oldest barn in the state.

On Monday, by failing to accept the bond-bill money, the town turned it down, McCleaf said.

Councilman Jeff Cline said Tuesday that the town council let down its constituents by not accepting the state money.

Cline said he supported the barn-renovation project before because he was told state money would pay for most of the costs.

During Monday's meeting, Cline didn't speak against turning down the state money, although he asked a few questions about renovation costs that have been incurred.

So far, the town has spent less than $25,000 on repairs for the barn, McCleaf said after the meeting. That includes about $17,000 to remove bats and less than $10,000 on electrical work, he said.

Munson said "it's no big deal" for a town to turn down a bond bill; circumstances and finances can change.

He added that the easement requirement was clear in the bill, which he assumed town officials would have read.

Councilman Anthony T. Drury, who oversees the town's parks, said he deserves as much blame as anyone for not looking at the bond-bill language.

"I honestly didn't read it," McCleaf said.

A similar dispute, also involving the Springfield barn, came up more than a decade ago. Brand said an easement was recorded in 1997, making the town eligible for grant money.

Several years later, the town objected and the easement was terminated, he said.

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