Town approves sale of cell tower
BEACON FALLS — A plan to sell the town-owned cell tower on Lopus Road was met with overwhelming approval.
The decision to sell the tower to Global Tower Partners of Boca Raton, Fla., for $925,000 was made during a town meeting on Monday by a vote of 24-1, with one abstention.
First Selectman Jerry Smith explained that this sale would net the town, after the 3 percent real estate commission and the legal fees, approximately $890,000.
He went on to explain that the town collects approximately $66,000 a year from the rent on that tower. The four companies who rent space on that tower are in contracts that are set to expire in 22 to 26 years from now.
“They’ve got renewals and they’ve got outs, just like all commercial releases do,” Smith said. “They couldn’t say tomorrow we’re not going to renew our lease, but they can actually give intent to not at the next renewal.”
Smith admitted that the sale of the tower would be a possible gamble.
“If you do the math, it’s worth significantly more than $900,000,” Smith said.
However, the rent money is still a potential gamble since phone companies could switch to using satellites rather than cell towers within the next 15 years, Smith added.
Smith felt that it was important to the town to start being able to have that money in hand today and begin paying down the town’s debt from the 10-year loan it took out this year to pay for capital projects.
“If we don’t sell it and stay status quo the debt [from the loan] is going to cost us about $110,000 a year. Which we calculated for some of that this year, but that’s for 10 years if we don’t sell it. If we sell the cell tower and pay down between $500,000 and $600,000 of our debt, it’s a five-year debt,” Smith said.
The remaining money from the sale will be used to raise the town’s fund balance. If the sale was not approved, all of the rent paid to the town would go towards paying off the debt from the loan.
During the meeting, former First Selectman Susan Cable said she felt the town would benefit more from selling the property that renting it.
“Just so people know, Beacon Falls, just like any other town, is not in the real estate business,” Cable said. “The previous administration, of which I headed, pursued this because we believed that, in the long term, it will be beneficial to the town.”
Once the sale is made, the town would collect $5,500 a year in taxes, based on the current mill rate.
Smith explained that the cell tower will be assessed as real property as opposed to personal property.
“There are some towns that will assess a cell tower as personal property and then depreciate them and your taxes go away. All cell towers in Beacon Falls are assessed as real property,” Smith said.
The town began exploring selling the tower, located at the Public Works Department, late last summer.
In October, American Tower Corporation offered the town $875,000 to buy the tower and lease the land for 35 years. The offer was the highest of four offers at the time. Before the matter could go to a town meeting last November, American Tower Corporation reduced the offer to $791,000 over 30 years. The issue was then put on hold as a new Board of Selectmen took office.
Smith explained when his administration took office he decided to go forward with the sale, put it out to bid, and received three bids in November.
They were $791,000 from American Towers, $787,000 from Tarpon Towers, and $615,000 with a 30 year lease from Bay Communications.
The town put it out to bid again, Smith said, and received two bids, the $925,000-offer from Global Towers Partners and $900,000 from Tarpon Towers.
Global Tower Partners, aside from submitting the higher bid, also offered to pay the town all at once while Tarpon Towers’ bid was a cash offer followed by payments.
According to Global Tower Partners’ website, the company is the largest privately owned tower operator in the United States and is the fourth largest independent operator in the country. It owns, manages or master leases more than 15,000 wireless sites including 6,400 towers throughout the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica.