Tuesday, April 23, 2024

‘Sticker shock,’ but Oc Tax advances to fund $1 million Joseph Warren Museum in Qby

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Members of the Warren County Facilities Committee cited “sticker shock” over construction bids nearing $1 million — $996,000, exactly — for the proposed Joseph Warren Museum and Visitor Center.

The County Facilities Committee forwarded the museum proposal to the Tourism and Occupancy Tax Committee, which approved “up to $800,000” in socalled Bed Tax funding for the museum.

The target site is a vacant house owned by the County next to Warren County Historical Society headquarters on Gurney Lane in Queensbury.

Warren County is one of several in the country named for Dr. Joseph Warren. The Massachusetts native died at Bunker Hill and was a key figure of the American Revolution.

“There is no museum dedicated to him in the country, and that’s a sin,” said Queensbury Town Supervisor John Strough, a historian who has researched and reenacted Warren.

Tourism-Oc Tax chair, Luzerne Town Supervisor Gene Merlino, cited hopes that the Finance Committee, which is next in line to see the proposal, will pick up half the funding from the County’s general account — as was suggested by County Budget officer and Thurman Town Supervisor Frank Thomas, who heads Finance.

Another $200,000 was already slated for the project in the 2024 budget.

Still, Supervisors and also the County Treasurer stated concerns over the cost.

“I’m reeling over the price here,” said Mr. Strough. “I understand it’s significant money, and we have other obligations under the Occupancy Tax.”

He wondered, “Would it be cheaper to take down the building and build new?”

Queensbury At-Large Supervisor Brad Magowan balked at bringing a resolution to the full Board of Supervisors without firm financing in place.

“I do not feel comfortable pushing this and cramming it out there and making decisions without a plan and hoping it works….In the past when we have done this, it always comes back to bite you.”

Mr. Magowan also addressed the Occupancy Tax Committee, of which he is not a voting member. He said that three years ago, when the Warren County Historical Society proposed the project, “I asked how we expected to pay for this.”

Now, Mr. Magowan said, with time short to complete the project in time for the United State’s 250th anniversary celebrations as hoped, he said, “This is bad government, bad decisions that end up costing taxpayers.”

“We just grabbed $3 million in Occupancy Tax money and gave it to (the Winter’s Dream attraction) that wasn’t as successful as it should have been this year — but I do still believe in it. Before we give this money out I’d like to see what kind of return we have, and I’d like to see the bid,” wondering at the cost for what appears to be “a simple little renovation.”

Later, Mr. Magowan suggested the county consider, instead, a temporary exhibit at an existing museum such as the Hyde or Chapman. County Treasurer Christine Norton expressed concern over the short time frame for the decision, and over not having seen the bid documents.

“Contractors all had their price,” DPW Superintendent Kevin Hajos said, citing rising construction costs in general. “They’re itching to do the work as soon as possible,” but bid figures are only guaranteed for up to 60 days, he said.

“There were plenty of bidders but these are the prices,” he said. Mr. Hajos said the bids came as “lump sums,” and that contractors would not be willing to provide full cost break-downs, but might simply rescind their bids.

The Facilities Committee discussed several options for funding the project, including bonding the full amount and paying it back as quickly as possible from Occupancy Tax funds.

County Administrator John Taflan noted, however, “There is not enough to fund the entire amount out of Occupancy Tax funds” currently on-hand.

He said the committee planning for the museum and the County Historical Society had both sought grant funding and outside donors, but “weren’t successful.”

Mr. Merlino said he appreciated Mr. Magowan’s concerns but that “Occupancy Taxes come from tourists…not ‘the taxpayers,’” as Mr. Magowan said.

At both meetings, Mr. Strough said he shared Mr. Magowan’s concerns, but, “If we don’t start…now, we will be delaying the whole process and that may come back and bite us also. Let’s start the process and see if we can’t make it better as it moves along.”

Mr. Strough said research shows “38 percent of travelers want to see cultural assets like museums. This certainly would be on top of that list.”

Tourism-Oc Tax Committee member Thurman Supervisor Deb Runyon said “We award money all the time to events that come and go. This will be here forever. Right now I’m inclined to vote yes.”

The Finance Committee meets Friday, March 29, at 11 a.m. Committee resolutions will go before the full Board of Supervisors for approval at their next meeting on Friday, April 19, at 10 a.m.

The Joseph Warren Museum would display memorabilia from his life, much from the collection of Lake George native Shane Newell, author of a book on Warren’s role in the creation of America’s democracy in the 1700s, said the Historical Society’s preliminary proposal.

It said the building on Gurney Lane would be transformed to resemble Joseph Warren’s birth home.

Warren, a physician, was president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and was a leader of the Sons of Liberty. He was killed June 17, 1775, while fighting in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Warren County was created in 1813 and named in his honor.

Separate topic: Regional morgue
The facilities committee also continued discussions about building a regional morgue near the Municipal Center.

“Doing the projections, if we don’t build, the cost of sending autopsies out of the county continues to escalate,” said the committees.

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