Representatives of a local church with dwindling membership and resources sought the city’s help Monday in resolving what has been a long-standing problem regarding upkeep of property.

Mary Hansen, a trustee of the Mount Horeb Baptist Church, and Craig Newbern, a deacon, asked the Metropolis City Council to allow utilities to be turned on for a rental house the church hopes will allow it to improve its financial position and meet its obligations for other rundown buildings on church property.

COVID-19 has had an impact on the church’s finances, with not being able to meet in person regularly, and church membership has also fallen dramatically, the council was told.

A key issue involves another structure on church property at Pearl and 10th Street that needs to be torn down. The city has been trying to get that situation resolved for the last 10-15 years, said Rick Abell, city attorney. Three years ago, the former owner of the property conveyed it to the church.

Hansen and Newbern told the council the acquisition of that property happened during the tenure of the church’s previous pastor, who resigned last December, and they were not made aware of the full extent of the issue until they inquired about the utilities on the rental house which is nearing completion.

“All of this has come about since (the pastor left),” Hansen said. “We’re working on the house, but we came to this standstill where we can’t get lights or water on. We really need to rent the house out.”

Abell participated in the meeting via telephone. He said in addition to nothing having been done with the property that was given to the church, another piece of property the former pastor acquired on behalf of Mount Horeb on East Seventh Street is also in rundown condition.

“I can appreciate that the church’s resources are stretched thin during COVID. I do understand and I sympathize,” Abell said.

“But we have been reluctant to essentially assist a new project when we have two properties that we get regular complaints on because of their conditions. I realize it’s not necessarily the leadership of the church currently that’s at fault, but we also have to recognize the rights of the parties that own property around these others that are in poor shape.”

According to Newbern, the drop in membership has also impacted the church’s ability to get the house ready to be rented.

“There’s been a big change in circumstance in what we had in 2016, 2017, as opposed to 2020,” he said. “The church is in a situation where we’re trying to get ourselves back on our feet. The house is about to be rented. The only thing we need is the OK from the council to allow the water and utilities to be turned on.

“We think at that point it could be a real revenue-earner for the church and enable us to address some of the other issues Mr. Abell has raised.”

Mayor Billy McDaniel said he and the council sympathized with the church’s plight. He also noted that other churches — as well as many small businesses — have been impacted by the global pandemic.

“Each one of us is sympathetic to problems that go on in the community,” he said. “The same thing’s going on all over town right now.”

Since the issue was not on the council’s agenda Monday night, no vote was taken.

The mayor indicated the city would continue to help the church look for a solution and address the issue further.

“We appreciate you coming here, we’re always willing to listen ... and then we’ll go from there.”

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