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Home News-Telegram News City officials air concerns over veterans memorial plan

City officials air concerns over veterans memorial plan

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What started as something of a skirmish over the proposed Veterans Memorial for the downtown square ended with a truce between city officials and members of the committee trying to build the monument.

In the end, members of the Veterans Memorial Committee said they would be open to sitting down with city staff and downtown design planners to discuss contingency plans should the fundraising for the monument fall short of its goals. But it took more than 2 1/2 hours of discussion — some of it tense and terse — before the two sides reached common ground.

Sulphur Springs City Council members scheduled a workshop at City Hall on Tuesday night with the Veterans Memorial Committee. Mayor Gary Spraggins, serving as moderator, said it had been two years and two mnoths since the committee made its initial presentation to the council.

“We’re still as excited as we can be about doing something for the veterans of Sulphur Springs,” Spraggins said. “But we have a few questions regarding your progress.”

Specifically, city officials wanted to know how much money had been raised for the project, which as designed is estimated to cost about $1.475 million.

So far, they were told, fundraising efforts have brought in approximately $330,000. Don Roundtree, memorial design chairman, said about $150,000 has been raised through contribution from individuals, organizations and small businesses, while Mickey McKenzie, chairman of GSC Enterprises Inc., has offered another $150,000. Two local banks have pledged $1,000 each, and organizers hope a third bank adds another $15,000.

He said the group was only granted its non-profit status in February, which should help in future fund-raising efforts and grant applications.

The city recently sold bonds worth about $4 million to do numerous downtown improvements, and the city is under the gun of sorts to move forward with its downtown projects. Peter Karstens, the city’s director of finance, said that  the bond money must be spent within 2 years and 9 months “or we lose the tax benefits, according to the IRS.”

City Manager Marc Maxwell said he was concerned that the project, which would cover more than 8,000 square feet on the southeast corner of the downtown square, is too big for the amount of money that the group will be able to raise.

“Let me be direct,” Maxwell said. “I have a concern about the overall scale of the project. My gut feeling is that it’s just too much.”

He said his and Karstens’ experience in seeking grants and donations for the city’s new library about 10 years ago taught him how difficult it is to raise $600,000 to $800,000.

“The reality is that it’s just really hard to raise that kind of money,” Karstens said.

 

The city officials essentially asked if the veterans committee would be open to discussing scaling down the project, or perhaps coming up with contingency plans to consider a different design if the fundraising efforts fall short.

“Could it be scaled down?” Maxwell asked.

“I’m not going to tell you we will draw a line in the sand,” Roundtree said, “but we do want to be part of any change.”

Committee members were also asked if the project could be done in separate phases, each being a completed design in its own way. Veterans memorial supporters, however, said they were suspicious that the city officials were against the construction of the memorial as it was designed and simply didn’t want it built.

“Could we phase it over time? Possibly. But if that means shrinking the footprint, I don’t think that will work,” Roundtree said. “All I’m saying is that if you try to cram us into too small a corner, it won’t work.”

Memorial committee members also said they felt the council had hurt their efforts at fundraising, citing a recording from a workshop held by the council when council members cracked jokes about the plans for the monument.

Conversely, city officials said their experience has been that members of the veterans memorial committee had seemed to be inflexible about their plans and weren’t open to any sort of compromise.

At the end of the meeting, however, Roundtree said they would be open to discussing the possibility of changes with city staff and designers of the downtown projects. Maxwell said a meeting would be set up at a future time.

 

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