Stevens Estate Budget Proposal Shows Grim Trend
With revenues for the historic site decreasing, the property has become an increased drain on town funds.
Town Manager Andrew Maylor presented the Board of Selectmen with his FY13 budget proposal for the Stevens Estate Monday night.
Maylor proposed $266,928 for the Stevens Estate, an almost 16 percent decrease from the $316,822 Town Meeting approved for FY2012.
"Since there is a direct correlation between expenses and revenues in regards to Stevens Estate operations, the lower than expected expenditures in FY12 are not a reflection of inefficiencies as may be the case with the General Fund Budget, but instead reflect an inability to generate sufficient events to meet the expected FY12 milestones," Maylor wrote in his report.
Selectmen unanimously approved the Stevens Estate budget, but the proposal opened the door for discussion on the future of the treasured town property.
Maylor recognized and emphasized the value the property has for the town but also pointed out the obvious -- the Stevens Estate is bleeding the town's money.
"The general trend on the Stevens Estate fund has not been a positive trend," he said.
Decade in Decline
In 2001, the Stevens Estate generated $819,674. In 2009, it generated $193,097. In the past three years, the revenue has stabled but it is not enough to keep the building operating longterm.
Selectmen echoed Maylor's concerns. The town purchased the property to protect the watershed from development, and the town took on the responsibility of keeping the building operational. But as revenues decrease, the burden to the town increases.
"I love the Stevens Estate, I love when i go to events there, I run events there, it's beautiful," Selectmen Chair Tracy Watson said. "But the numbers freak me out, I gotta be honest."
Assistant Town Manager Ray Santilli said the drop-off in revenues after 2001 was due to three factors: The terror attacks of Sept. 11 caused people to parties and functions to decline, the state courts issued several rulings holding hosts of functions with alcohol liable for incidents that may happen involving guests, and the Stevens Estate director was indicted.
"We've steadied ourselved, but we still haven't recovered," Santilli said.
A Needed Conversation
Maylor said the town will have to have a discussion on the future of the Stevens Estate property. "We may come to realize it's not a sustainable business and say that."
But Maylor and the selectmen also made one thing clear. They do not want to see the Stevens Estate go away.
"We can continue to operate this facility the way it is and live with what it means... in order to maintain this building keep it vibrant theres a cost," Maylor said, adding that an alternative is to work to make it a viable business, and there are costs associated with that. "The real goal is to expand activity at the Stevens Estate and therefore generate revenues."
And shutting down the building is not an option either Maylor or the selectmen are willing to consider. Whether the town takes the initiative to promote the building for increased business, leases the building to a nonprofit or sells the building with deed restrictions to a for-profit, the end result will be a building standing.
"There needs to be something here," Maylor said. "Whether it's ultimately this or not is for another that. But it needs to be occupied or the building will deteriorate."