During the candidate debates, I raised the issue of the disparity between the purchase price of the new DPW site at 9 Alpha Road and the values placed on the site by formal appraisals obtained by the town.
The town paid for a study for the explicit purpose of identifying suitable properties. Four properties were identified. However, bids were not solicited. There would have been no down side to doing so; the town could have solicited bids without incurring any obligation to buy.
In 2009, the Town Manager urged voters to approve the purchase of the Alpha Road site for over $4.4 million stating, “The price will only go up.” Voters wisely rejected the ballot question requesting authorization for the proposed debt.
In 2010, voters approved a scaled-down plan for a new DPW facility. The Town received an appraisal of the 9 Alpha Road property on 5/20/2010 from Sagendorf, Taupier and Associates at a value of $2.3 million with an estimated $1.85 million of recommended upgrades to be done. The Town received a second appraisal dated 6/18/2010 from The Appraisers Group at a value of $1.44 million – derived from an assessed total value of $2.3 million and deducting $867,000 for needed roof repairs.
Nevertheless, the BOS, upon advice from the Town Manager and Town Counsel, decided to pay $2.75 million for the property in August. In other words, besides ignoring the repairs that would cost around a million dollars, the BOS decided to tack on another few hundred thousand dollars to the appraised value!
Why get appraisals if we are just going to ignore them?
More importantly, it turns out that the owner of the property, Robert Ansin, is on the Executive Board of the Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council. Town Manager Paul Cohen is on the Board of Directors of that same group. Regardless of whether there was misfeasance, the fact is that over a million dollars of your money was wasted on overpaying for the Alpha road property. This is not good management. If I am elected Selectman, I can guarantee each of you that I will do my utmost to ensure that our tax money is spent wisely and that where deals are proposed between friends, associates, or colleagues, all such deals will receive special scrutiny.
During the candidate forums, in answer to the question of why the town paid $2.75 million to Mr. Ansin for property that had an appraised value of $1.44 million or less, Pat Wojtas maintained that surely the cost of fixing the roof had been deducted prior to arriving at the $2.75 million value. That is simply incorrect. George Dixon maintained that since the property had been assessed at $2.75 million by the Town for tax purposes prior to the independent valuations, to avoid a lawsuit it was desirable to pay the $2.75 million since it was a “good deal.”
However, even if one accepts the Town assessment of $2.75 million rather than the appraised market value of $2.4 million, the point is that the roof repairs of $850,000+ needed to be deducted from the value in any case – and they weren’t. So the town paid the full assessed value as though the property needed no repairs. As the new owner, the town immediately embarked on the mammoth roof repair job at taxpayer expense.
This is yet another reason why Kopelman & Paige should be replaced as Town Counsel.
Our selectmen are apparently unaware that there was no downside in legal terms to paying the real market value of the property. Any lawsuit undertaken by the owner to argue the value would simply involve a resolution of the price; the taking of the land would in no way be delayed. Also, any lawsuit would cost the landowner as much as the town; it is not worth it to the town to pay over $1 million extra to avoid a potential expense of a few thousand dollars for a lawsuit which, a priori, would seem to be without much merit and simply be a waste of the landowner’s time and money.
The selectmen have praised Paul Cohen’s “financial prowess.” It would seem that any such prowess has not always used on our behalf.
In today's edition, the Chelmsford Independent endorses George Dixon and Pat Wojtas for re-election. If you don’t mind the lack of oversight, and if you like to see your tax money being wasted, and if you are content to see this sort of financial mismanagement moving forward, by all means vote for the incumbents.
Roland Van Liew