Cairo questions

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

People who drive through Cairo, Ill., usually are on their way somewhere else. The city offers little in the way of attractions except for some magnificent buildings and houses, left over from its heyday.

Now, ostensibly to ease a budget crisis, Mayor Paul Farris wants to stop city support of the Custom House Museum and advocates selling Riverlore Mansion, built in 1865.

The Custom House is a 123-year-old building that was a point of entry during the city's riverboat era. Cairo's location at the confluence of the nation's two largest rivers, the Mississippi and Ohio, gave it strategic prominence when the rivers were America's superhighways.

Until recently the city's support of the Custom House Museum and Riverlore had amounted to paying the utilities. Members of the library board that oversees operation of the Custom House Museum say the city hasn't paid the utilities for four months. Volunteers who work at the museum have been keeping the utility payments current through fund raising. Utility payments by the city at Riverlore also have stopped.

Farris proposes to sell Riverlore, a mansion the city bought through a 1999 bond issue. Cairo has been paying $17,000 a year in interest but nothing on the principal of the bonds, which are due to begin maturing this year. The overall debt is $270,000.

The library board president, Bill Harrell, and others claim that part of a special library tax that is supposed to be used to pay off the bonds is being diverted to other uses.

An investigation is called for if in fact a misdirection of city funds might be occurring. Beyond that, the good citizens of Cairo need to have a discussion about the future of their city. If history isn't Cairo's future, what is?

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