Purcellville Seeks Win-Win Options for Fireman’s Field

“Looking at options here, we can stay status quo and just get nothing for the property, or we can think outside the box.” – Council Member Ryan Cool

Fireman’s Field is 15.84 acres and is located at 20th Street and Nursery Avenue. It is made up of Haske Field, Fireman’s Field, Dillons Woods (where special events are held) and the Bush Tabernacle.

The Town paid $1.7 million for the property, has a 20- year note with zero percent interest and is 10 years into paying off the note. The land is in conservation easement (with the exception of Haske Field).

The Town of Purcellville currently receives little income from Fireman’s Field, and the Town Council is looking for ways to change that. This was a topic of discussion at the February 28 Town Council Meeting.

Said Council Member Ryan Cool, reiterating that there is a tax-exempt status on the property, “So, my job as an elected official is to not increase your taxes, but decrease your taxes.” Cool continued, “It is paramount, it is my job to be a good steward of your money and not spend it where it doesn’t need to be spent.

He continued, “We spend $284,000 on debt payment and we get back $46,200. There is a potential revenue source. If we just want to take on debt, take tax dollars to pay down debt, that is a really easy job as a government. Because we have the unlimited ability to tax – which I think is the wrong ability to have as a government. Looking at options here, we can stay status quo and just get nothing for the property, or we can think outside the box. The reality is we do have a massive debt,” said Cool.

Some of the costs of Fireman’s Field included the purchase price of $1.7 million, $1.6 million for the parking lot and landscape, $2 million for the Bush Tabernacle renovations, $658,485 for the stadium storage upgrades and $44,000 for the floor of the skating rink.

The current outstanding debt on the property is $3,630,860, financed at tax exempt status. This status limits the income the Town can receive from the property. But Town Manager Rob Lohr said the Town can either bring in a management company to run the entire complex (collect the revenue and then pay the company), or it can refinance.

Said Cool, “The purpose of this is to look at all options. “We have the opportunity to do that now. I would like to see some reduction or elimination of the Fireman’s Field Tax District (currently 3 ½ cents per $100).”
Cool recommended three options:

  • The Town can take over and have staff manage Fireman’s Field. This would be too much of a burden on staff.
  • The Town could solicit an RFI [Request For Information] to firms to see who is interested in the management.
  • The Town could have a management company come in and manage Fireman’s Field.

Council Member Kelli Grim said that the Town was headed in a positive direction. “We need to solve the tax exempt restrictions of the debt. Going out for an RFI does not eliminate the current management of the Bush Tabernacle. They can participate or expand or partner with another organization. We are not trying to exclude anyone. We are opening the broadest tent to overcome a situation that we didn’t create. We can’t sit and do nothing. If we continue on the path we are on, we the citizens will be poorly represented.”

Vice Mayor Karen Jimmerson said that the County, who manages Fireman’s Field, charges everyone to use it and “they can’t tell us what they are charging.” She said, “The arrangement of the tax-exempt bonds we have, constrict how much we can charge someone to rent these facilities and that really hampers us.” Jimmerson said that if the Town could find someone who could manage the rental of the property, “we would actually get the income.”

In a social media post Mayor Kwasi Fraser wrote, “My recommendation at our last council meeting was to determine via a Request for Information what opportunities may be available to the citizens of Purcellville to generate revenue in excess of the budgeted $46,200 annual rent currently paid by Mr. Message’s organization [for the Bush Tabernacle] and $0 rent paid by the County for the field. In addition, the town is responsible for all major repairs to the facility. Given that the citizens of Purcellville contribute almost $284,244 annually to service our Parks and Recreation debt, that we have an upcoming 2021 balloon payment of $1.6 million, and that we have a tenant paying $46,200 annually for an 8,500 square foot facility which was renovated with $2 million of our taxpayers’ money, we absolutely owe it to our citizens to determine if better opportunities with both economical and recreational value to our community exist.”