NORTH ADAMS - The proposed sale of 215 acres of city-owned land in Pownal, Vt., was the center of an intense debate Tuesday night, with councilors questioning if the sale should be put off until the local real estate market rebounds.
The land was one of the only parcels of the city's Broad Brook watershed property in Pownal not to be sold to the U.S. Forest Service in 2005, save for the former caretaker's property on White Oaks Road, in Pownal.
"I'm asking the mayor and begging this council not to do this," Councilor John Barrett III said. "I was involved in the sale of the city's land up there in 2005 It's a bad time to be selling it. We need to leave this land alone. It's a ludicrous idea. It's crazy to sell this land at this time- this land is worth about $1 million."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright disagreed with Barrett's assertion that the Pownal land could be sold for $1 million, despite its potential to be split into developed lots. The land is assessed at $378,300.
"It's raw unimproved land with no services," he said. "I don't know any developer who would pay $1 million for this land, only to make an investment of $1 million in the land to be able to sell it I've been talking to my financial team about this for almost two years. We just think the timing is right, that it has the value and that it's just sitting there."
Alcombright added, "We will not come back with a lower offer [than the assessed value]. We are trying to make money off of these parcels.
Councilor Jennifer Breen said she felt that it didn't make sense to pay taxes on land the city wasn't using. The city pays $6,784 a year in taxes to the town of Pownal.
Councilor Alan Marden asked for a history of logging rights and revenues from the property, which City Administrator Michael Canales did not have on hand.
"It's not a good time to sell any land," Marden said. "Land is still depressed in Northern Berkshire and Southern Vermont. I would suggest approving the land in Stamford and in the city. I'm familiar with the Pownal land. It has a lot of potential. I believe it will be worth more in time."
A motion to approve the sale of land in Pownal failed, with only Breen and Council President Michael Bloom voting in favor.
Barrett did not raise similar concerns about the proposed sale of three parcels, comprising 351 acres of city-owned land in Stamford, Vt., but was one of two councilors to vote against the sale. Councilor Marie Harpin cast the other vote against the sale in Stamford. The sale passed with a majority vote, 6 to 2, with Councilor Nancy Bullett absent.
Barrett also did not object to the proposed sale of some 67 acres off of West Shaft Road. That sale was unanimously approved.
Requests for Proposals (RFP) for the Pownal and Stamford parcels were advertised in the July 31 edition of the state's Central Register, which lists all of the RFPs available in the state. Canales said the city would withdraw the Pownal RFP on Wednesday.
In other business, the council approved a $150,000 bond to purchase: a $95,000 bucket truck for the Wire and Alarm Department; $25,000 for a SCADA power supply card for the water filtration plant; $15,000 for two aerator compressors for the city reservoirs; $5,000 for a sander and $10,000 for a plow.
Alcombright said the city's bucket truck is in need of $13,000 worth of repairs and in addition, the city is in need of a truck with a greater reach.
Barrett, who cast the lone vote against the bond, said he believed the city would be better off purchasing a used truck that would be less expensive. He also chastised the mayor for not including the items in the bond in the annual budget.
Fire Director Steve Meranti said the city had viewed used bucket trucks, many of which were listed at $65,000, and felt it was better to invest in a new truck.
He said the city's current bucket truck was purchased in 2008 for $8,000. Since then, the 1997 vehicle has had $10,000 worth of repairs performed on it and requires at least $13,000 more.
"It's used by every department on a daily basis," Meranti said.
The council also approved a resolution supporting the reestablishment of a veterans outreach center, to be run by veterans, in Berkshire County; $19,236 for the purchase of 115 new parking meters for Main, Ashland, Eagle and Marshall streets; and the appointments of Maria Diamond and JoAnn Lipa-Bates to the Human Services Commission.