In the last month, we have held four open budget hearings in the diocesan community with one more scheduled in the next week. That process is paramount to me. I want each of you to understand what is in the diocesan budget - how it reflects an over-arching commitment to proclaiming the Gospel, addressing the pain in the world and investing in our churches.
Part of the budget includes Wapiti. Even before I was elected, I heard your questions about the property. Here, I would like to provide some answers in the hopes that knowing the facts may better allow us to move forward as one body.
What is Wapiti?
Wapiti is a 432-acre property in Maryland purchased in 2003. There are 11 rooms on the property for rent, a large covered pavilion near the water and several tent platforms for camping.
I thought there was a resolution to sell the property. Why wasn't it sold?
In 2008, Convention passed Resolution R-9. This authorized the governing bodies of the Diocese to list the property for sale. However, it did not mandate or require that the property to be sold. The property was listed for sale at $15 million but no offers deemed acceptable were received.
- In 2011, the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council and the then Finance and Property Committees all voted to accept an offer for $6.6 million. However, Bishop Bennison declined to accept, thus blocking the sale.
- At Convention 2011, another resolution (R-8) was passed which allowed the property to be sold without the consent of Bishop Bennison. This resolution became null and void when Bishop Bennison retired in 2012.
- The property remained listed for sale but no other serious offers have been received since. The property has not been actively listed with an agent since 2013.
- During his time in office, Bishop Clifton Daniel publicly stated that, because of the temporary nature of his authority, he did not believe it appropriate for him to authorize a sale.
Would you be willing to sell it?
I would be willing to sell if we receive an offer of at least $6.6 million, which is what the governing bodies of our diocese previously elected to accept. I will not agree to an offer that amounts to pennies on the dollar. This would not be good stewardship and would be poor exercise of my fiduciary responsibilities as your Bishop.
What is the value of the property?
As per our Audit in 2007, Wapiti was valued at $9,848,306. This represents land acquisition costs and investment in the buildings. This does not represent the cumulative costs of salaries, maintenance, utilities, insurance, etc. These expenses bring the total investment to approximately $11.5 million.
Since then the value of the property has consistently depreciated and at present we carry it on our books at $4.5 million. This significant depreciation reflects both changes in the real estate market and a change in the zoning rules that cut the number of developable lots in half from the original projections.
What are the annual operating expenses?
In 2017, our net expenses were $165,401 after $21,474 in income. This includes all expenses for salary, benefits, maintenance, insurance and taxes. In the interest of reducing the net expenses, we are actively examining all contracts and relationships related to the property.
How is the property being used now?
The property is maintained and it is available and used for a variety of retreats. In 2017, twenty groups used the property. So far this year, 14 groups have used it. We currently have a draft policy before the Chancellor that would allow people from outside our diocese to make use of it. We believe this could significantly boost the income generated and thus help further offset the operating costs without any new program development. We will also actively promote the property for rentals inside the diocese until a decision is made on rentals outside the Diocese.
What about the future?
I have asked our Creation Theology Committee to develop a model that would allow for organic and sustainable agriculture as well as developing capacity to serve as a spiritual retreat center. To that end, we organized an Open House event on October 6, 2018 in the hopes of introducing as many of our members as possible to the property with the goal of getting your feedback and input in further developing their ideas.
I recognize that the history of Wapiti is long and complex and like any complex issue, there are many different perspectives, which are sometimes accompanied by some strong feelings. But, we cannot continue to allow ourselves to be defined by the past. All things are being made new in Jesus Christ. We must look at Wapiti with fresh eyes to see how we might use it in our efforts to make Jesus known and to change the world in his name.
I sincerely hope you will consider coming down in October in order that you might look at it for the first time or the first time in a long time. Who knows what God might have in mind? Therefore, let us root our hope in Jesus Christ and move forward in our faith.