The Kenmore Association, which oversees the operation of George Washington's boyhood home, Ferry Farm, is willing to repay the money it owes Stafford County, but the nonprofit organization would prefer to reinvest the funds to improve the increasingly popular tourist attraction, Executive Director Vernon Edenfield said last week.
The issue has lingered for more than a year and was thrust onto the front burner Tuesday when Supervisor Alvin Y. Bandy (R-George Washington) declared he intended to make sure the county collected the approximate $800,000 it is owed before his term ends Dec. 31.
Edenfield said the association has the money to repay its debt and would be willing to negotiate a settlement before the end of the year. But he said the county would be better served by waiting.
"We have the funds, but it would mean taking away from programs for the benefit of the county," Edenfield said. "We are in a period where we need the money; we have a chance to invest in building and growth for the benefit of the county.
Edenfield said repaying the money now would hurt efforts to receive grants and upgrade Ferry Farm. He said that the tourist attraction, which had about 25,000 visitors last year, is gaining national recognition.
Bandy did not return numerous calls for comment. County administrator C.M. Williams Jr. said he is attempting to set up a meeting between Bandy and Edenfield soon so they can discuss the payment.
Although Bandy is adamant about receiving payment in full, others on the Board of Supervisors have indicated that they may be willing to negotiate.
"I don't think it's realistic to think that the county would accept anything but payment in short order for the first $200,000, which was theoretically due last December," said Supervisor David R. Beiler (I-Falmouth). "But I think there's a possibility that various arrangements can be found where Kenmore may not pay cash for the rest of it, but may provide the county with services in lieu [of the money]."
Beiler said those services could include providing free admission to students in county schools or other historical education efforts.
The debt dates to 1996, when the Kenmore Association bought the historic site after a long public battle to save the property after Wal-Mart announced plans to build a shopping center on the land.
Throughout the discussion between the association and the county, there has been disagreement about exactly how much the group owes and what conditions had to be met before the money was due. And during budget negotiations in the spring, Supervisor Robert C. Gibbons (R-Rock Hill) proposed to forgive the debt altogether, a motion that was overwhelmingly opposed by the other board members.
Under terms of the deal, the association agreed to reimburse the county for the money it had spent on the property since it acquired the land in 1990. The first of four yearly installments was to be paid Dec. 31, but the association has delayed payment until the county completed a handful of duties agreed upon as conditions of the sale. Those duties, which included getting an audit of the county's dealings with Ferry Farm, have been completed.