The greatest immediate threat to the future prosperity of Baldwyn is the continuing deterioration of homes in the heart of our city. We have dozens and dozens of homes, in a tight circle around our downtown, houses already recognized as being historically significant by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, that are in serious danger of being lost entirely or of becoming so dilapidated that they are uninhabitable. While there are no quick or easy fixes, this is not an unsolvable problem. But don’t expect answers to materialize out of thin air. Baldwyn needs to quickly formulate a plan to address this problem, and then we need action.
Unquestionably, one of the first things we should do is apply the fixes that we know are already available. The MDAH-listed, historic homes – up and down 2nd and 3rd Streets, Main Street, Water Street, Cemetery and others – are eligible right now for tax credits that can be taken by homeowners who restore their properties to original conditions. In fact, the credits are very substantial – a 25% federal tax credit and a 20% state tax credit.
It should be noted here that a tax credit is a straight subtraction from a final tax bill and is not the same thing as a deduction, which is subtracted from taxable income before a final tax is calculated. A credit is a true, dollar-for-dollar savings at the bottom line. What does that mean? That means if you own a home on the MDAH list and you restore that home to a set of standards approved by the Department of the Interior, your home renovation will only cost you $0.55 for every $1.00 spent. There are stipulations – you must own the property, you must maintain ownership of the property for five years, you can only restore one property per year, etc. – but any way you slice it, it’s a good deal.
If local government would help promote, educate and assist in the use of this available program, Baldwyn would take an excellent first step towards brighter prospects. Still, even then, it would be just a first step. A comprehensive plan with clearly defined goals and a timetable of execution is what is truly needed to move our city forward and then to keep it headed on an upward trajectory.
Last month, a new family moved to Baldwyn – husband, wife, four kids – and, as would be expected, they are looking for a place to live. The father of the family will be working in Baldwyn, and his kids will be attending Baldwyn schools. One day last week, he and I had lunch and drove around town to look at residential possibilities. We have problems. I showed him a home, on the market now at approximately $150,000, which should be worth about $250,000 or more. His comment to me was that he really liked it, but considering the state of the properties around it, he was not sure it could hold its value should he decide to sell it in a few years. The house is under-priced by almost $100,000 and yet his response was not a positive one. To receive a comment like that from a prospective homeowner, a professional who has lived in Mississippi then away and now is returning, should be a wake-up call for our community.
Baldwyn has significant and pressing needs that are evident to every unbiased observer or casual visitor to our town. We need to eliminate open ditches in our city neighborhoods. We need a curb and sidewalk plan that can be incrementally implemented. We need to destroy and remove condemned and uninhabitable properties. We need to tightly enforce codes that prevent new manufactured housing units within city limits. And we need to define just what can and can’t be installed outside commercial and residential properties, among other things.
Clearly, Baldwyn is a beautiful, historic city, but beauty fades, in buildings and streets and houses the same as in human beings. Frankly, we have reached a critical point in the history of this town, and we simply can’t wait any longer to take the steps required to preserve it. That is, if we want to insure a thriving future for our children and grandchildren and provide at least the possibility that that future might be found here in Baldwyn.