Lebanon is projecting more than $175,000 in annual expenses for the Mitchell House after completing renovations on the building a few months ago.
The city had previously spent $1.4 million to purchase and repair the property, citing a lack of space at Lebanon City Hall, and five departments now use the building as office space. With the move complete, the Lebanon City Council discussed its future expenses during a budget work session on Monday.
“That budget, we have reduced it by almost $247,000, taking out the improvement lines, and it’s pretty well status quo also,” Mayoral Assistant Debbie Jessen said. “If you haven’t had the treat of coming by here, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised when you see the building. We have polished and buffed, and it’s quite impressive.”
The largest line item in the proposed Mitchell House budget includes $55,000 for utilities, which is an estimate of their annual costs with 13 offices in the building.
“We don’t have a full year’s worth of data yet, but hopefully that will suffice for the whole year,” Finance Director Stuart Lawson said, adding that he used both the previous owner’s bills and city hall’s as a template. “They didn’t have as many people in the building as we do ... . I kind of used two or three different ways to come up with that number, and I think that will be pretty close.”
Other larger line items include $35,000 for contractual services like alarm and sprinkler systems, $20,000 for maintenance and $21,692 for insurance. Another $31,200 is included to cover part-time salaries for newly added positions.
“We have two part-time individuals that do the cleaning here, and it is considerably cheaper than the cleaning that’s taking place up at the admin building,” Jessen said. “It’s great cost savings there … they’re regular part-time city employees. At the admin building, there’s a full-time employee monthly cleaning service.”
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said the Mitchell House was the most fiscally responsible way to move employees from city hall, despite it coming at a cost to the budget.
“When we bought this building, we were looking at buying the bank building downtown and remodeling it or building another building downtown behind city hall,” he said. “The costs that we have here are far less than what we would be paying for either of those other buildings. There’s definitely a cost for this building, but with the choices we were looking at I think we picked the most economical choice.”
Ward 6 Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman said the council approved the purchase for that reason, and that there may be ways for the property to generate revenue.
“We talked about when we bought out Mitchell, us renting it out,” she said. “I know right now that’s hard to do, but as we move forward into our new normal in terms of renting it out or having special events and things like that ... . I’m just thinking that, as for weddings and opportunities to offset some of these costs we’re incurring at the Mitchell House.”
Jessen recommended against renting the building for indoor events because of security costs and potential damages, but she noted the area has been popular for photos and could work as an outdoor venue.
“There are pictures made here every afternoon, it’s crazy,” she said. “Even on the weekends, we have brides, and we have prom pictures, and even for graduation pictures people are coming by and pretending they’re graduating and getting all their graduation pictures here. It’s amazing.”
Brinkman estimated the city could recoup at least half of the Mitchell House’s upkeep costs by renting it for outdoor weddings, family reunions and other events.
“If someone wants to have a full wedding there, and a lot of people have in the past, we could potentially recoup some money of what we are spending in the budget,” Ward 1 Councilor Joey Carmack said. “I would like to see that — not inside, but the outside is a great setup for a wedding venue.”
Ward 3 Councilor Camille Burdine said the city would have to consider some logistical concerns before renting the property as a venue.
“We don’t own the lot in front of it, that’s Wilson Bank’s,” she said. “It would have to be to the side or the back, and then you’d have to consider parking, because we’re not set up for a venue as far as parking is concerned.”
Ward 4 Councilor Chris Crowell said he was uncertain about the idea and wanted to learn more about past rentals before committing to it.
“It’s a public building, it’s got value there and people have rented out things in the past,” he said. “I would be curious to know what’s been done in the past, and then, as they mention what the costs would be insurance-wise, sort of a feasibility, pros and cons.”
The discussion was ultimately tabled, but the council is expected to revisit the idea.
“If there’s any way we can recoup, I think we absolutely should,” Brinkman said. “And make it available, because it’s an absolutely breathtaking facility.”
The council also held a regular session meeting and further budget discussions on Tuesday, accepting a bid from SherloQ Solutions for city collection services at a primary charge of 9.5%. SherloQ offered the lowest bid from among six eligible companies.
“Currently, the collection agency that we have right now has gone into bankruptcy, so we put out bids to get a new company for our services,” Lawson said, adding that the rate is better than what the city currently has.
The Lebanon City Council’s next budget work session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday and will cover maintenance, engineering, building inspections and finance.