Petition urges officials to send land deal to town meeting

Beacon Falls officials are looking at buying land that borders the public works garage on Lopus Road from O&G Industries. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — There’s at least 200 people in town that want to see a proposed deal to buy land from O&G Industries go to a public vote.

The town has a proposed deal in place to buy a roughly 5.5-acre parcel of land adjacent to the public works garage on Lopus Road from O&G. Under the agreement, town would buy the land for $1. O&G has the right to buy the land back for a $1 after 15 years, unless the town and the company reach a mutual agreement to extend the deal for five years. If O&G takes no action after 15 years, or 20 years if the deal is extended, the town takes ownership of the land, under the agreement.

The plan is to use the land as a bulky waste site for brush and debris, since a solar panel array sits on the land the town used to use to dump brush between the public works garage and the wastewater treatment plant.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik presented the plan at the Board of Selectmen’s October meeting. At the time, the plan drew concerns from several people, including concerns over the cost to develop the land and the loss of tax revenue.

Selectman Michael Krenesky was among those who raised objections to the deal, and early this month he submitted a petition with 201 signatures requesting that the purchase be brought to a public hearing and then voted on at a town meeting.

Non-budgeted expenditures of $20,000 or more have to go to a town meeting for a vote. Since the deal is to buy the land for a $1, the purchase doesn’t legally have to go to a town meeting.

Krenesky said it’s not the purchase price that concerns him. Rather, it is the work the town will have to put into the property.

The work includes clearing some land, building an access road, evening out the grade of the land and building a fence around what would be the bulky waste site. The town would also have to obtain a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for the bulky waste site.

Krenesky said he received a quote of about $50,000 to fence the whole property.

The town itself has not gone out to bid for any of the work yet.

According to Krenesky, the town would also have to pay around $20,000 in state permit fees.

“When we add this all together it is much more than the $20,000 level that would force us to go to a town meeting,” Krenesky said. “How can you approve this $1 purchase knowing you have more than $20,000 for expenditures?”

Krenesky said he was also worried about the loss of tax revenue.

The land is assessed at $146,790, according to the property card. Based on the town’s 2018-19 tax rate of 35.9 mills, the land generates about $5,270 in tax revenue a year, which would amount to about $79,000 over 15 years.

Town Clerk Leonard Greene said he validated the signatures on the petition, but the petition isn’t legally binding and can’t force a town meeting on the purchase.

Krenesky said the petition is meant to be more of a request from residents and a message that people want more answers before moving forward.

“I won’t disagree that the Board of Selectmen has the authority to move forward with this purchase. I just question if it is the right thing to do, understanding the overall financial impact,” Krenesky said.

The board is expected to discuss the deal again at its next meeting. First Selectman Christopher Bielik couldn’t be reached for comment last week.