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Clarifications on Berlin Falls park

The Berlin Town Council’s unanimous approval of building demotion at Berlin Falls park became a contentious issue on Monday.

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(March 14, 2019) Berlin Mayor Gee Williams on Tuesday responded to several questions raised about Berlin Falls park during a contentious public meeting Monday evening.

As for where money allocated for demolition of several small buildings would come from, Williams replied, “The money is part of a $500,000 balance that purposely remained after the town issued a $3 million bond for the purchase of the property. This balance has been used for the expenses the town has incurred in making improvements to and cleaning up the property. Some limited expenditures were also made for touch-up painting and securing the large building that formerly housed the poultry processing plant.”

Williams said the bonded money could not be used “for any purpose that is not related to Berlin Falls Park.”

Asked whether any of the buildings now slated for demolition could be repurposed and leased, Williams said, “Leasing the small outbuildings would not be commercially viable because of the additional cost the town would need to invest before they could be leased.”

“These small buildings would most likely be used for no other purpose then storage resulting in negligible revenue to the town, while complicating all future options for the town. If we did not demolish the structures and sought to lease them, they would all need major renovations plus the cost of running sewer and water to each building,” he said.

Asked if the Town Council now regretted the decision to purchase the property, Williams said, “Whether this property is an albatross, or an opportunity is in the eyes of the beholder.”

“As the town goes through our resilience meetings this week, and particularly during our budget listening session on Tuesday evening, March 26, the mayor and council will get the current pulse of the community on these two very different outlooks,” he said.

“The town’s primary reason for purchasing the property was to ensure that it would not ever again be used for industrial purposes,” Williams continued. “The council members and myself openly discussed the urgency to stop the stink of its former use and likely future uses on this industrial site. We were strongly encouraged to buy the property by Berlin citizens to finally, after more than 60 years, end this environmental nightmare that also significantly diminished the quality of life in northern Berlin.”

On whether the purchase of the property affected the town’s need to now raise property taxes, Williams said the purchase “did reduce the town’s reserve fund.”

“A sale of the Berlin Falls Park property could [benefit] the town’s general fund reserves, but I believe the public needs to have a much better understanding of what both the immediate and long-term benefits of this property to Berlin residents,” he said. “All of us must do a better job of getting this information out to our community and this will be accomplished in the weeks and months ahead.

“Either selling or retaining the property would have no impact on our water and sewer rates,” he said.

If the town wanted to sell the property, according to Williams, “We have no way of knowing how long it would take to sell the property.

“If it were to be put up for sale, the town would certainly require a sale price that would recover all the cost related to the purchase and all the subsequent property improvements of the site,” he said.

“A sale of the Berlin Falls Park property would help replenish the town’s general fund reserves. Either selling or retaining the property would have no impact on our water and sewer rates,” he added.