November 27, 2021

Costs to fix Little White Church mount

Kevin Conlon/city editor

The village of Homer is considering its options after bids came in higher than expected for renovations to the former church on the Village Green that the village purchased.

Only one option remains to fix major problems with the Little White Church: have a referendum to ask Homer village residents to bond for the $128,000 cost, village officials said Tuesday.

The village board discussed the idea at a meeting Tuesday, but did not vote on it.

“If the people want it, they’ll put a bond issue and therefore their taxes won’t rise a whole lot per year,” said Trustee Ed Finkbeiner, who suggested the idea of bonding. “It may be a lot of years, but we expect to use the building for a lot of years.”

If it cannot get a bond, Finkbeiner said the village would look at demolishing the 188year-old building.

“It’s either that or it’s a parking lot,” he said.

The suggestion to bond comes after the village received a $128,000 estimate to repair the foundation and stabilize one of the walls from Woodford Brothers, Inc. of Tully.

“It’s a lot of money and more than the village has,” said Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe.

The state approved the Homer village taking ownership of the building in 2018. The village acquired it at no cost from the PCA Church New Hope Presbyterian of Vestal, but had to sign a 99-year lease for $1 for the land with the First Religious Society of Homer.

It plans to turn the church into the Little White Church Community Center to be used for events, plays or even weddings, with a goal of eventually handing ownership over to a nonprofit.

Repairing the foundation is essential to keep the building standing, Finkbeiner said. “It either has to be fixed or it will fall down.”

McCabe said he liked Finkbeiner’s idea of putting it to a referendum.

Deputy Mayor Patrick Clune said that bond interest rates right now are historically low.

“So if there’s a silver lining to this, it’s that,” Clune said.

Finkbeiner said it was the only option left because the village can’t raise money to cover costs and it can’t turn it over to a non-profit and then give that non-profit taxpayer money to make the repairs.

But Trustee Kevin Slack said he’s not sure enough people will support borrowing.

Finkbeiner said that is why the village has to start talking to village residents now, and look to have the vote in March.

Even after those repairs, the village faces other costs, including repairing the roof, which it hasn’t gotten any estimates on yet.

The board had previously sought bids on a number of repairs, but the bids came back nearly four times more than what the village was ready to pay — between $295,000 and $387,000.