The Hoschton City Council reversed its decision on Monday to spend sales tax revenue to relocate and partially renovate the Hosch Store.
Council members Jim Cleveland, Jim Higginbottom, David Poteet and Sandie Romer voted to deny an amendment to the city’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) budget that would have allocated $25,000 to the project. Council members Scott Butler and Theresa Kenerly voted in opposition to that denial.
The decision came after about 15 people — including council members and citizens — offered their views on the proposal during a lengthy meeting on Thursday night.
Built by the city’s founding brothers shortly after the Civil War, the Hosch Store has served as a store, post office and dormitory for nurses at the former Hillcrest-Allen Clinic.
The estimated 150-year-old store now rests near the intersection of Peachtree Road and Ga. Hwy. 53 — where it served the nearby clinic. That property is owned by the Scott Hudgens Family Foundation, which planned in April to demolish the two-story frame building.
However, city officials met with representatives that manage the property to hammer out a potential saving grace for the old store. A local Girl Scout troop also rallied behind the project.
The Scott Hudgens Family Foundation is allowing Hoschton to move the wooden structure — which has a total estimated price tag of $50,000. The foundation would contribute $12,500 to the effort with an additional $12,500 coming from other private donations. The city planned to spend $25,000 in sales tax revenue earmarked for parks and recreation for the project, as well.
Two weeks ago, the city council agreed to spend SPLOST funds to move the Hosch Store, but Mayor Erma Denney then vetoed that action. Denney is resigning as mayor at the end of this month because of a job conflict.
However, city attorney Thomas Mitchell said that vote on Sept. 13 wasn’t valid because the matter requires two reads at a council meeting. Hoschton’s charter requires that budget adoptions or amendments — as was being proposed with sales tax revenue — undergo two hearings. At that point, the city had held only such required meeting.
Thursday’s council work session technically constituted as the city’s second reading on the proposal.
Opposition to Moving Hosch Store
Those opposed to moving the Hosch Store mostly objected to the city using sales tax funds on the project when the money could be used for other recreation ventures in Hoschton. Some opponents also questioned the historical significance of the structure.
“I’ve lived here since 1974 (and) I knew nothing about the Hosch building until this year,” one man said. “So, what is it? What did it do for the community? And in regards to wasting $25,000 for something to look at, I don’t get it. I mean, spend some of that money right here (in the square) to put tables … so it can help the city and the people that come to the (fall) festival and things like this.”
Hoschton officials were proposing that the Hosch Store be relocated near the historic depot on Ga. Hwy. 53. It would have been placed in the spot of an existing playground, located behind the Georgia Kids Academy.
In turn, city officials were considering moving the playground to a vacant lot in the city square, next to Little Hootie’s Dippin’ Parlor. However, that proposal wasn’t finalized and a number of relocation options were reviewed for the playground.
A mother who said she moved to Hoschton three years ago, said she enjoyed taking her children to the playground and the nearby ice cream shop, along with visiting special events in the city square.
Another woman said maintaining a sense of “walkability” is a key factor in Hoschton. She said she was opposed to moving the Hosch Store and the estimated cost for the city.
“Parks and rec, to me, is huge,” she said. “And I know a lot of people that I’m friends with also feel that, too — that they want their kids to have lots of playgrounds and lots of walking areas,” she said.
Poppy Hughey said she visited the Hosch Store and her “heart sank” when she saw its exterior condition. She explained that spending SPLOST funds on a playground is better than the “money pit” of a building with questionable value.
However, Hughey said the Hoschton Depot — which was restored by the Hoschton Women’s Civic Club about 10 years ago — remains a source of pride in the city.
“The Hosch Store is not in keeping of the character of the depot,” she said. “And the historical value of the Hosch Store does not make it worthy of keeping.”
Council member Sandie Romer said she spoke to nine citizens about the proposal to move the Hosch Store. None of them favored the idea, she said.
“History is near and dear to my heart and it breaks my heart to actually lose this building…,” she said. “But the ones that I spoke to, is, ‘We can’t afford to spend the money.’ We just can’t at this point in time.”
Even 96-year-old Ralph Freeman Jr. — who is considered by many to be a historian of Hoschton — seemed indifferent to the Hosch Store’s fate. His mother was born in the building.
“I’m not going to plead to keep the store,” Freeman told the city council. “I want y’all to do what you think needs to be done with it. It’s not going to upset me, whatever you do.”
Others Favor Moving Building
But others favored moving the Hosch Store, including council member Scott Butler — who has been a key proponent of the proposal.
Butler said the building symbolizes those hard-working citizens who opted to open their businesses during tough economic times.
“It’s not an old building,” he said. “It is a heritage and a legacy of people like (funeral home owner James Lawson) serving his community and growing his business. It’s the reason I moved up here 22 years ago — to be in a small town that had historic value.”
The $25,000 in SPLOST revenue that city officials were considering using for the relocation and partial renovation of the Hosch Store is far less than the thousands of dollars the city pays every year in sales tax revenue to pay $6.4 million in debt for its sewer treatment plant, Butler explained.
He also read a letter from Carol Tanner, who worked extensively on the renovation of the Hoschton Depot and continues to serve on a historical commission in the city. In the decade since its renovation, the Hoschton Depot has been used to host a number of civic and social events, along with public government meetings and special events.
“I think that the Hosch Store could be rehabilitated and could be used and appreciated by the community, as well,” wrote Tanner, who said she was disappointed in the mayor’s veto of the initial vote two weeks ago.
Kay Schulte, wife of former council member John Schulte, reminded the council how diligently the Hoschton Women’s Civic Club fought to restore the old train depot. She urged the council to preserve the Hosch Store.
“It is not without history,” Schulte said. “Do we want to lose all of our significance in Hoschton because we don’t want to spend $25,000 today?”
Dianne Blankenship, who serves on the city’s historic commission, also asked the council save the Hosch Store.
“The Hosch Store is the history — where Hoschton started,” she said. “I realize the importance of historical information and I feel like this is one shot we have to save the beginning of our town.”
But some in the audience questioned if the city council was the only group charged with saving the Hosch Store. Some asked about involving the Tumbling Waters Society — which maintains a historical village of vintage buildings from throughout Jackson County at Hurricane Shoals Park in Maysville.
Blankenship, who also serves on the Tumbling Waters Society, said the group has discussed moving the Hosch Store to Hurricane Shoals Park.
“My personal opinion is I’m with (council member Scott Butler), it’s our history, I’d rather see it stay in Hoschton,” Blankenship said. “But if the building is going to be demolished, then I feel sure that those of us in Tumbling Waters would listen to a proposal.”
Spending SPLOST Money
Mayor Erma Denney said she was against using the city’s sales tax revenue to relocate and partially renovate the Hosch Store when Hoschton has been adamant to not use city funds in the restoration of the Darby Building.
That structure was moved to the other side of the Hoschton Depot in recent years and has been funded by the Hoschton Historical Commission — which has raised and spent $30,000 on the project. The group still needs an estimated $10,000 in donations to finish its work, Blankenship said.
Denney said she also wanted to keep the site of the existing playground near the depot for recreational use. Before the playground was installed in the area, it was long used for tennis courts.
“When this first came up, I was interested in seeing what it would take to move the store,” Denney said. “It was upon hearing the estimate — the financial costs — of what it would be that it clearly and plainly became not even a question for me any longer.”
To move and renovate the exterior of the Hosch Store, city officials were considering using $25,000 of sales tax earmarked for parks and recreation. That particular SPLOST account has about $41,400 available.
When voters approved the latest SPLOST in November 2010, the ballot included broad language for what officials in Jackson County and its cities planned to do with the funds.
For Hoschton, officials wanted to use the money for water and sewer; roads, streets and bridges; and parks and recreation.
An intergovernmental agreement between Jackson County and its cities adopted prior to the referendum spelled out how SPLOST revenue would be spent. In Hoschton’s case, the agreement specified 75 percent for water and sewer, 20 percent for roads and bridges, and five percent for parks and recreation.
As part of its discussion on the Hosch Store, the Hoschton City Council considered the possibility of “exchanging” SPLOST money among the specified spending pots to fund the store’s relocation and restoration. SPLOST money can only be used to fund capital projects.
City attorney Thomas Mitchell explained that recent court decisions involving SPLOST revenue makes it possible to shift money among the specified spending areas — as long as those areas still remain funded.
He explained that because of the economic conditions, those who give opinions on the SPLOST law believe that if the ballot didn’t contain specific language detailing particular projects, percentages or amounts, the council has the flexibility to transfer sales tax revenue among its spending pots.