There were more questions than answers when the Cumberland County Commission’s Buildings and Grounds committee met for the second month in a row to address a request for assistance from the county in making necessary repairs to the Homestead Tower.
Monday afternoon, the panel met with the nonprofit Homestead Tower Association’s representatives and county attorney Philip Burnett to discuss how best to proceed with the Association’s request for help.
“You (the county) need to own it before you invest in it,” Burnett opened his remarks. He added that “the title is not clear” after conducting a title search and looking at other government documents.
In 1952, Burnett continued, the tower and 8.8 acres was deeded by the U.S. government to the Cumberland County Board of Education to be used for school purposes. In July 1980, the property was leased to the Association for 100 years at a rate of $1 per year.
In May 1999, the property was quitclaim-deeded to the county. Burnett believes this was done because the property was no longer being used for school purposes and the U.S. government didn’t want it.
Burnett explained that what needs to be determined is whether the quitclaim put the land in county or school board hands.
Burnett further elaborated after the meeting, “No one realized the original deed had a reversionary clause until 1999 when they contacted the U.S. and convinced them to do a new quitclaim deed.”
Burnett said he met with school board attorney Earl Patton who said the board of education owns it, but Patton is not certain the board wants that ownership. School Board Chairman Teresa Boston told committee member Jim Blalock that while the issue has not been discussed by the present board, she believes the board would entertain the idea of transferring the property.
“She thinks the school board doesn’t want it and would like to get rid of it,” Blalock reported to the committee.
Brenda King of Homestead Tower Association said she could not speak for the Association board of directors, but she thinks the board would be open to the idea once questions of whether it is financially feasible and if the community gets behind that effort.
The Association has looked into obtaining grants, but most grants for this fiscal year have been awarded or transferred to grants relating to assisting nonprofits in meeting operation expenses during the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
In the end, it was agreed that no county funds should be spent until ownership is determined.
Other questions for the county attorney include an exact understanding as to who owns the property, whether the school board or county could quitclaim the property to the Association, if the property could be donated or would it have to be labeled surplus property and sold at public auction and whether during all the changes in hands a reversionary clause still exists.
County Finance Director Nathan Brock briefly discussed the Tower Association’s profit and loss May financial balance sheet.
Committee Chairman Wendell Wilson said following the report, “They are solvent, working to pay their bills and have a little money in the bank.”
Commissioner Rebecca Stone asked, “If they can’t take care of it and they come back to the county for funds, then should we give it to them?” A lot of issues will have to fall into place before that question is answered.
Commissioner David Gibson then moved to transfer the issue to the county mayor’s office to let the mayor and the county attorney determine ownership and come back to the county with a proposal. The motion was seconded by Stone.
All committee members were present and voted yes with the exception of Blalock. He voted no, expressing concern over more delays.
Wilson noted during the presentation that leaks in the roof at the Tower Museum are a priority in moving the issue forward. It was previously estimated that roofing materials and work could cost from $72,000-$176,000, depending on the materials used.
Other requested repairs — with the exception of tree work on a tree that damaged the roof — was placed at around $500. It was suggested the Tower Association could proceed with the tree work using their funds.
There seemed to be a consensus of committee members they would support some form assistance. The determination of ownership has to be decided before any further action can take place.
The committee will meet again Aug. 3, at which time Burnett is expected to have answers to questions asked by the committee. The meeting is held on the third floor of the courthouse at 4:30 p.m.