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City delays museum votes
Council tables action on tax district and service contract with National Slavery Museum after residents raise questions.

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Date published: 3/13/2002

The Fredericksburg City Council decided last night to seek answers to several questions before voting on a special tax district to repay a $1 million loan to the National Slavery Museum.

The council tabled votes on the district and on a contract requiring the museum to provide marketing and planning services to the Celebrate Virginia tourism complex in exchange for the loan.

The motion to postpone both decisions passed 4-3, with Vice Mayor Gordon Shelton, Councilman Ambrose Bailey and Councilman Harold Bannister voting against the delay.

Councilman Richard Garnett said he moved to table the issues after speakers raised questions during a public hearing on the tax district.

Several speakers wanted to know more about restrictions in the deed transferring land from the Silver Cos., which is developing Celebrate Virginia, to the museum. They also asked for specifics on how the city's $1 million will be spent and the schedule for repayment.

"You need to contact us, contact your city attorney and get your questions answered. Let's not do this fence-riding I've seen tonight," Garnett told the crowd.

The council did take an unbinding vote to appropriate $1 million from this year's budget surplus for the museum. Mayor Bill Beck and Councilman Scott Howson opposed the appropriation.

"There are serious questions as to what this money is going for," Howson said. "I want a little bit more information before I can support that."

The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and final vote on the contribution at its next meeting, March 26.

City Attorney Jim Pates explained that the tax district would be created to repay the city's loan to the proposed museum. Under the proposal, property owners on 411 acres of Celebrate Virginia would face additional real-estate taxes to repay the city's $1 million with interest.

Celebrate Virginia is slated to include hotels, businesses, restaurants and tourist attractions along the Rappahannock River. The National Slavery Museum proposed by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder would be built on 38 acres in the tourism development.

Pates also negotiated the proposed contract with museum consultant Michael Neiditch and museum attorney Louis Salomonsky. It calls for the museum to market and promote businesses in Celebrate Virginia, create a transportation plan for the development, and prepare plans for parking lots and utilities there.

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