In this week’s issue of the Morrison County Record (March 23, 2008), there’s an article by Liz Verley about the Little Falls City Council’s discussion concerning the Dewey-Radke house.  (See Section A, page 4, or do a search on the Morrison County Record’s website using the term “little falls city council”.  The article is called, “Council discusses whether to repair Dewey-Radke house”.)

The Dewey-Radke house is located next to the entrance of Pine Grove Park.  The Deweys offered the house to the City of Little Falls in 1974 so that it could remain a part of Pine Grove Park.  This makes sense because the park wraps around the house’s property.

For as long as I can remember, the house has been little used by the city.  The West Side Improvement Association has been using it for meetings and activities for the past few years, but this organization’s use also appears to be minimal.  The trouble is that it is a house – great for living in, but lousy for any kind of intensive public use.  Most houses are not built to be handicapped accessible, but this particular house, which is of the 1890-1920 vintage, was constructed long before society took that sort of thing into consideration.  Also, like most houses, the floor plan isn’t conducive to public use, what with the rooms designed for individual, private use and small gatherings, not large group activities.

The city is now struggling with what to do with the home.  It is in need of repairs, to the tune of $150,000, according to the Record.  That’s a lot of cash and the city isn’t sure the home is worth it.  Jerry Lochner, the city’s Public Works Director, has suggested that it may need to be torn down “if we can not find a public purpose for the building.”

The City Council isn’t taking the situation lightly, which is a good thing.  Little Falls has become known state-wide for its active pursuit of historic preservation.  If the city starts knocking down historic buildings willy-nilly, people will note the hypocrisy.  Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult for a city or municipality to own a formerly-private home because of the costs involved in repurposing and maintaining it.  Taking care of homes is not the first priority of a governmental unit.  In fact, houses and their attendant property are revenue streams for the government, so owning private homes works against a city’s budget in more ways than one.

Compounding the problem for the City of Little Falls is that it owns not one private home, but several.  In addition to the Dewey-Radke home, it owns the Burton/Rosenmeier home, which houses the Little Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Weyerhaeuser and Musser homes, collectively known as Linden Hill.  This is contrary to what Council member Brian Crowder is quoted as saying in the Record.  He said, “As a city we do not have anything to do with Linden Hill.  We need to look at taking care of city property.”  Well, Linden Hill is city property and while the homes are being looked after on a day-to-day basis by the Friends of Linden Hill, ultimately, the city does still have responsibility for the homes.

The city ended up with these properties through the generosity of those who bequested them and, in the case of at least three of the homes, the city was given funds to assist with maintaining them.  Frank and Alice Dewey provided funds for the Dewey-Radke home and The Musser Trust provided an endowment for Linden Hill.

According to Brian Crowder, the Dewey Trust has earned “over $1 million in interest used by the city,” and he suggested using some of that to repair the Dewey-Radke home.  What a sensible idea.  But, if the city hasn’t been using that money on the home to date, what have they been doing with it?

Even if there is funding available to make necessary repairs, the city is still going to have to figure out how to use the Dewey-Radke home, something it hasn’t managed to do in the 34 years it has owned the structure.  I’m sure it’s not for lack of brainstorming sessions; it’s just that sticky a problem.

While I offer no solutions to the current dilemma, I would like to offer a tip.  If you are considering donating your house to a city or municipality – don’t do it.  Just don’t.  I know you have an emotional attachment to seeing your house preserved as is for all eternity, but that isn’t how things will work out.  What you’re doing is putting a governmental unit into a position that it is not equipped to handle, even if you provide a generous amount of funds for the home.  Much better to create a nonprofit organization devoted directly to the house and turn the funds over to it.

My other piece of advice is this.  If you are a governmental unit – don’t accept a house.  Just don’t.  Learn from the situation Little Falls is in and save yourself the hassle.

The weeds I’m in are bound to decompose,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel