This past Monday, the Board of Selectmen was presented with a Citizen’s Petition signed by 19 Sturbridge registered voters “To see if the Town will vote to transfer from Free Cash the sum of THREE HUNDRED FIFTEEN THOUSAND AND 00/100 DOLLARS ($315,00.00) to purchase property and buildings located at 310 Main Street in Sturbridge, or take any action in relation thereto”. That article has been placed on the Town Meeting Warrant for your consideration, as required by law.
The building in question is adjacent to Town Hall (directly to the left) and has been an item of discussion for a number of years, particularly during the 2-3 year period surrounding the proposed renovations of the then Town Hall and Center School. As that particular period predates my service as an elected official, I cannot speak with any authority relative to the thought process shared by those involved in terms of the level of consideration tendered to the purchase of that particular property. As a current member of the Board, I can say that this issue has been raised by several residents and that such has been the topic of discussion/consideration for the past 18 months (approximate).
A number of “reasons” have been provided in support of the “need” to purchase this building now while the “opportunity” exists. Those reasons include, but are not limited to, a) the need for future space as we will someday out-grow Town Hall and the Center Office Building, b) the inconvenience of staff and residents having to navigate a street-crossing in order to do business between the two buildings, c) the lack of parking at the Center Office Building, which contributes to additional inconvenience for staff and residents, d) the reality of a market that is “perfect” for purchasing a building that is within 25’ of Town Hall, thus being ideally suited as an annex building, and e) the absurdity of not purchasing the property when we first renovated Town Hall coupled with the fact that 100 years from now we’ll regret having not purchased it. I assign no level of priority or legitimacy to these arguments, but merely share them as the rationale thus far offered in support of purchasing 310 Main Street.
In terms of the property itself – listed on the Assessor’s property cards as having been built in 1850 – the current value (assessed by the Town for tax purposes) is $204,600, with a current tax bill of $3,607. Considering such, the removal of this property from the tax roles at a purchase price of $315,000 would mean that in approximately 87 years we would break even with the seller. That of course does not account for the age of the building and any potential renovations necessary to convert it into a useable municipal building. Realizing the magnitude of accessibility issues that would need to be addressed (e.g. elevator, ramps for those with mobility issues, wheelchair access throughout, etc.), in addition to the structural requirements of municipal buildings in terms of load bearing and emergency egress, as well as the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC requirements associated with same, one could easily be looking at an additional $200,000 on the low end (an overly conservative dollar amount), and perhaps as much as…well…God only knows, on the high end.
To cover those costs, some have suggested that we could sell the Center Office Building (COB) and use the money from that sale to purchase and renovate 310 Main Street. This in itself presents a significant challenge as the current assessed value of the COB is $376,700 and we invested an estimated $1.7 million in its renovation. Though certainly the COB is worth more than its assessed value, one has to question the likelihood of selling it for more than, or even close to, what we have committed in renovation costs. Equally, one has to recognize that this project generated its share of controversy for a number of years due to the estimated costs and discussion at that time did raise the prospect of “annexing” 310 Main Street. Ultimately, the project as completed was overwhelmingly passed by voters both at Town Meeting and at the ballot box, thus, the issue of COB ownership, has in my view been settled as that ship has sailed.
Oddly, at a time when residents are experiencing significant tax increases due to our transition to a single tax rate, in addition to the costs associated with the Town Hall/COB renovations (approximately $5 million), as well as the Burgess School project (approximately $17 million), not to mention the 68% increase in water and sewer rates associated with the new wastewater treatment facility (approximately $17.5 million) and a new well and water lines, we are being asked to purchase a deteriorating building for $315,000 that will undoubtedly cost as much as, if not more, to renovate it. In light of my overall position with respect to the FY13 budget proposal, I can attest without reservation that I – as one individual member of the Board – will not support the expenditure of tax dollars for a building that we “might regret not having purchased 100 years from now”. People in this community are suffering today, losing their jobs, witnessing wage and benefit decreases, and in more cases than we dare admit are losing their homes today. I personally cannot spend too much time focusing on what we might need a century from now, in the face of what I do see we need today as manifest by way of my door-to-door journey, and that is relief from additional spending or debt.