By SHANNON WATKINS
At the last Pulaski Town Council meeting, Bill Strenz, a local investor and former member of Pulaski’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority, addressed the council, announcing he had bid for and won a caboose and would like to give it to the town to go with the museum.
Strenz told the council he would donate it and pay for any costs associated with moving and setting it in place above a certain amount, and it could make money for the town if fixed up and rented out as a place for tourists to stay overnight. According to Strenz, a decision has to be reached by May 29.
At the time, council agreed it would take the two weeks until Tuesday night’s meeting to look into finances and see what was possible, and seemed to support the idea. At the meeting, however, most council members appeared to have changed their minds.
Town Manager John Hawley said Town Engineer Bill Pettigo went to Richlands, where the caboose is currently located, with a representative of U.S. Crane and Rigging, who advised it would be about $20,000 to move the caboose and set it up in Pulaski. He said an additional $470 or so would be needed to establish a standard water and power connection.
Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman asked if Strenz could speak. Worrell reminded council that they were conducting a work session with no public comment period, but advised Strenz could speak briefly.
“I called the local guy up in Richlands that moved this for the school before, and the price that he gave me to move it here, which is rigging it, taking it apart, and getting it here, was between $4,000 and $5,000, and just the cost of the crane here, which is in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $2,500 to take it off,” said Strenz. “The school has agreed that they would take out the deck on their own and pay for it, and disconnect the utilities, and the guy that would bring it here would take off a couple of the items on the top of the train and they would re-weld them here. He’s very familiar with it, he’s just moved one about three months ago, and he’s done it three times for the college already.”
Councilman Jamie Radcliffe asked, “Mr. Mayor, is what this is saying that it’s $20,985 to get? Is that what it is?”
Worrell answered, “That was the quote from the crane company.”
Hawley clarified, “That’s the company that accompanied Bill over there last week. Mr. Strenz says that the other contractor can move it for $3,000 to $5,000.”
Councilwoman Heather Steele said, “I don’t understand why there’s such a huge difference in price.”
Goodman joked, “Higher profit margin?” He said it seemed feasible if it could be done for the price Strenz quoted and mentioned putting it next to the museum.
Hawley mentioned problems in putting a caboose at that site, noting that there would be some difficulty with the sewer line, and also that where the caboose sits now at Kiwanis Park is actually Norfolk Southern property, not town property. “I think we’d have to make a call to them to make sure they’re OK with having something that would be rented on their property,” he said. “The town actually owns only what’s paved over there. Everything else is held in a 99-year-type lease for the park.”
Radcliffe said, “I’m just not in favor of spending this kind of money. I don’t feel comfortable spending the taxpayers’ money right now on this right here until we see how it is going to fall in the budget.” He went on to add, “We don’t know what the outcome is going to be. We’re guessing what it’s going to cost, we’re guessing how we’re going to do this…I just don’t know that I feel comfortable spending that much of our budget. We have the museum. We haven’t got that thing up and running yet. And to jump on something else before we finish this, I’m just not comfortable with it.”
“As a citizen I certainly appreciate the gesture, Mr. Strenz,” said Councilman Greg East. “I do have some concerns regarding where we’re going with it, what the ultimate cost will be. If it’s $6,000 or $7,000 or $21,000, I don’t have a clear picture in my mind where it ultimately ends up, and how it all fits in. It just seems that we do have a lot of capital expenses that we do need to address. I’m a bit skeptical that it’s the right thing to do at this time.”
Goodman urged the council to consider the caboose, saying, “I think it’s something that we need to stop and think about. It’s been stressed by folks coming off the trail that they need a place to stay. This is an opportunity to create it.” Echoing Strenz’s idea at the earlier council meeting, he advised renting it out to tourists as a way to make money for the town.
“Right now, our worst-case investment is $7,500. In regards to budget, there is $2,300 unallocated in our budget available for us to use, so there’s a portion of it right there,” said Goodman. “I do know that we have $5,000 still to come up with and yes there are capital issues, but when you look at the future you have to start figuring how you’re going to invest in it and what chances you’re going to also take. I think this is one of those chances that we should take.”
Councilman Dave Clark asked if it were possible for Strenz to get a report from the contractor in Richlands with a dollar amount officially listed on it regarding the cost of moving the caboose.
Strenz replied, “Oh, absolutely. There’s no question about it.” He added, “As I stated earlier, I’m willing to take the risk over a dollar amount. All you need to do is tell me where you want to put it.” The cap is $10,000. If it comes in at $7,500, that’s all it’s going to cost. If it costs more than that, I’ll eat the cost. I’m willing to donate that.”
Radcliffe said, “I understand you’re willing to take the risk. I’m not willing to take that risk with taxpayers’ money. I understand what Vice Mayor Goodman said. I think it’s still poking in the dark at it. We have other things that we need to do with this $7,500 or whatever it may be.”
East brought up his concerns about the caboose beyond the initial cost of setting it up, saying, “Well then, you get into management-type issues, where somebody has to oversee that and maintain it, be there to rent it out, how do you address all that? It’s a lot more complicated than just, we set it there. There’s a whole system that has to go in place to manage it, and that’s where I’m having some difficulty.”
Goodman asked, “Mr. Hawley, we had talked at one point about talking to another local organization to see if it’s something they can manage. Did you speak to them?”
Hawley said, “I had not talked to them. I didn’t think we were that far along with it at that point in time. I had briefly discussed that with them when we asked about the cabins at Gatewood. I think they would have an interest in managing. I don’t know if they have an interest in coming over and cleaning it and actually doing everything they do to their cabins. I mean it’s possible but obviously at that point you’re paying them their housekeeping fees and all the fees like that. I don’t know how much that would be at that point.”
Hawley went on to say, “I think councilman East is right, there’s some things down the road, we’d have to consider in how we’re going to do it.”
Worrell said, “Well I, too, commend Mr. Strenz for his efforts for this community. It’s refreshing to see someone willing to step up and take part like this. And it’s an intriguing project, I wish we could do it. I’d like to see it,” but went on to say he felt uncomfortable with it right now.
No motions were made about the caboose before council moved on to other business.