While weighing whether to move from chilly western Pennsylvania to Apalachicola, I follow from afar the debates as to what Apalachicola's and Franklin County's governments are doing. The financial messes discourage me.
I love the ideas for putting city money into developing city-owned individual property lots - except that it cannot be done yet.
One ought not to brighten one's kitchen with shiny new appliances while a leaking roof is sending water down through its ceiling.
City-guided development of lots for housing sounds great - until it collides with $800,000 in default in water loan debt. This is not merely money owed; there is almost $4 million of that. No, the $800,000 is past-due "deadbeat" money.
Apalachicola cannot invest in affordable housing, as Apalachicola surely should do, until the city gets out of “deadbeat" status. The city's credit is shot. "Investments" in housing mean borrowing on credit. For Apalachicola, there is no credit.
Instead of spending, Apalachicola needs to sell, and sell now. Sell private lots, except only the irreplaceable riverfront properties. Sell City Hall with appropriate, enforceable development covenants. That would be a shameful loss of heritage, but there is a penalty for past willful refusal to pay legitimate debts.
Residents should also prevail upon Franklin County to close the "white elephant" that is Weems Memorial Hospital and put that land on tax rolls. Use the proceeds and tax revenues, plus whatever else it takes, to knock down that $800,000 "deadbeat" debt within one or two years, and start chewing away at the $4 million in not-yet-overdue debt. Invite Sacred Heart Hospital to establish an urgent-care clinic and improve transportation to its Port St. Joe campus. Accept, with regret, the foolishness of plowing new money into hurricane-damaged tin shacks that are, well, ugly.
Only then, with the carcasses of dead albatrosses safely buried, should Apalachicola take on new financial obligations.
Those of us who love Apalachicola's bucolic rhythms, its charming locales and delightfully welcoming people are not buying, or long-term renting, in a city that sees no shame in having broken its word to repay borrowed money in timely fashion.