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Council Calls for Rewrite

Memorandum on arts center deferred for 30 days.

Melody Fetske, president of the Herndon Foundation for the Cultural Arts, was not surprised when the Town Council deferred a Memorandum of Understanding between the foundation and the town for 30 days regarding the creation of a cultural arts center downtown.

"So many of the misconceptions have to do with a total lack of understanding," said Fetske, who spoke at the Sept. 14 council session to residents and council members.

"This MOU is not asking for anything that has to do with taxes," she said of concerns that town taxes will fund the projected multi-million dollar center. "The MOU is asking for an agreement to raise money, it does not relate to taxes in a direct line."

Mayor Michael O'Reilly agreed there is confusion with the town's involvement.

"I think there was a lot of miscommunication of the MOU in general," said O'Reilly. "Council member Dennis Husch brought up the issue, should the town fund any of the cost of building [the center]?"

Fetske said it's hard to give an exact estimate of how much the proposed center will cost, mainly because they have not begun to raise funds and do not know if they will have to alter plans based on how much they collect.

Fetske said, based on research of other arts centers in the area, the estimated cost could be anywhere from $3 million up to $9 million.

JEAN GOLDSBY, founding director for the Herndon Towne Square Singers, said the Sept. 14 public hearing included name calling, not listening to accurate information.

"Based on being on the committee, that was never the idea, that the town should pay taxes," said Goldsby of the original Herndon arts center committee. "That should be brought to the public in truth and not through e-mails and rumors."

O'Reilly explained community confusion and then rumors sparked much of the Sept. 14 session debate.

"We need to do a better job to make the general public understand we don't want to raise property taxes to build the building in town," said O'Reilly. "No taxes will be raised in order to build anything."

Through surveys conducted over the three years on his Web site, and by e-mailing constituents, council member Dennis Husch said he has heard mixed responses for the center.

Husch added his surveys are not scientific, voluntary and go out to a mix of residents, not just one core group who may be against the arts center.

"It's a lot of money to support a very small group of people in town," said Husch, adding he supports the center if it were paid through a bond referendum. "I'll vote in favor of the bond because of the impact the building will have on the downtown, it's good for the future of the entire community, but when my constituents tell me 'no, don't use public money,' I'm restricted to that."

Husch explained if the foundation and town apply for a bond referendum, residents would have to vote for or against it, thus making it their decision if the cost of construction were paid for through bonds sold by the town.

"AS FAR AS I am concerned, the foundation could be out raising money today," said Husch. "They have a commitment from the town, the town bought the land ... that's a big commitment."

Fetske said that is easier said than done.

"We can raise money now and say it's for the arts center and give it to the town," she said. "However, we're talking about large amounts of money, we have to go to large corporations ... if we do not have the authorization from the town, then there's no one out there who will give money to help build something that the town hasn't committed to build."

Fetske and Goldsby agree, the town needs to make the next move.

"Right now the town — and I don't want to accuse them of waffling, but they are trying to please everybody and as a result they've made no commitment to anything," said Fetske. "The foundation can't tell the town how to do it, everybody is looking to the foundation to do it ... we have no authority right now, we have no real standing."

O'Reilly said although the MOU was not on the Sept. 21 work session agenda, council members will discuss it in work sessions, as well as with foundation members.

"In 30 days hopefully we'll have a new document, we will be clear on the issues and hopefully some document will be agreed upon," said O'Reilly.

Fetske said the foundation is ready to work as a collective unit with the town and residents.

"If we work together we'll go further than if we shoot barbs at each other," said Fetske. "We still need to have everyone agree in principle and in concept that, yes that's the arts center we want to build, but we don't have the funds for it yet."