The British have a saying: “Penny wise, pound foolish.” It means saving a few bucks in the short term may end up costing you in the long term.
When the Ogdensburg City Council recently voted not to support the Fort de la Présentation Association in its quest to get grant funding to purchase the property that used to be the fort, it was penny wise, pound foolish.
Mayor Wayne L. Ashley and Councilmen David G. Price, Michael B. Powers and Timothy P. Davis all said they did not want the property going to the association because if it were owned by the nonprofit organization, it would be taken off the tax rolls. The property’s annual tax bill is about $740.
Fort de la Présentation Association President Barbara O’Keefe spoke to the council before it took its vote. The acquisition of the property, she said, will offset the tax loss with multiplier dollars brought in through tourism.
“The deep water dockage on the property will allow us to welcome tall ships, tour boats and domestic cruise ships to enhance our tourism efforts,” she said, according to a story published July 9 by the Watertown Daily Times.
The site is adjacent to the property on which a reproduction of the fort is planned to be built. Acquisition of the property, in addition to giving the association more waterfront access, would secure an important artifact field that has only been lightly touched.
The property is where the actual fort stood. It is a precious piece of Ogdensburg history that could be lost for $740 per year.
Mr. Price said he wasn’t concerned about the $740; he was concerned about losing that $740 per year forever.
What he didn’t consider was the much greater amount of money available if the Fort de la Présentation Association was able to complete its transformation of this important piece of real estate into a genuine tourist attraction. That’s forever, too.
It’s a volunteer group trying to develop the site. Progress has been slow, but momentum has been growing.
Councilor Jennifer Stevenson disagreed with her colleagues’ decision not to support the Fort de la Présentation Association.
“The fort seems to be gaining momentum with what they have been doing in that area of the city,” she said. “They’ve got a beautiful park that our citizens have use of, and this is the site of the original fort. It’s not just acquiring a piece of land. It is a piece of land with our history embedded in it.”
Now is not the time to abandon this effort; now is the time to make an investment. The council members who voted against supporting the association all said it wasn’t the amount of money. It was just that it was some money.
But the unescapable truth is — it’s a small amount of money. The loss of it won’t make any difference in the city’s battle to right its financial ship.
As Ms. Stevenson said, the city doesn’t really have a say in who buys the property. Another nonprofit could buy it and take it off the tax rolls, and then it would go with no return in the form of tourism revenue.
Endorsing the Fort de la Présentation Association in its efforts is an easy decision to make. Not supporting the association is penny wise, pound foolish.