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DANBY — The town and the Danby Mount Tabor Volunteer Fire Department have signed a $150,000 purchase and sale agreement for a home on Tinmouth Road with the intention of demolishing the 122-year-old structure and using the property to improve emergency radio communications throughout town.

The way the agreement was reached has drawn criticism from residents questioning why the meeting was called on a Saturday morning, and whether more community input should have been taken into consideration when the board decided to use $125,000 of the town’s ARPA dollars for the purchase.

But Select Board Chairman Bradley Bender said a year of asking for ARPA funding suggestions resulted in silence until the board landed on the plan to buy the property and use it to improve communications for emergency and town vehicles, and install an emergency helicopter landing zone.

The special meeting was properly warned and held Saturday “because that’s when we needed to hold it,” Bender said Tuesday. “We had a time element involved. It was legally noticed and the Select Board has that privilege (to purchase property).

“I’m really very upset that people are saying that this was done under the cloak of darkness,” Bender said. “That’s just a lot of BS.”

Why not offer more opportunity for the community to discuss the plan? “That’s a private negotiation. The seller had a timeline on that and we needed to respond to that,” he said.

According to the Danby Grand List, the property at 43 Tinmouth Rd. is owned by Thomas and Roxanne Green, and is appraised by the town at $113,000 – $48,000 for the land, and $65,300 for the house.

The property – a 500-square foot, four-bedroom house built in 1900 and situated on a 1.5-acre parcel – was listed for sale at $179,900. According to the listing page, it had been listed for 21 days and was being presented by Trent Stephens with Wohler Realty Group.

The house might not be there long. According to the draft minutes and Bender, the Danby-Mount Tabor Volunteer Fire Department, which put up $25,000 of the $150,000 purchase price, intends to demolish the home. Bender confirmed that plan Tuesday.

According to the draft minutes, the department plans to use the property for a radio tower, and connect to its well for use by its adjacent auxiliary fire station, which sits on the corner of the property. That station has a lease for an easement on the property, currently in year 77 of a 100-year term, according to the draft minutes.

The fire department approached the town for help in purchasing the property, according to the meeting draft minutes, because it didn’t have the funds to purchase the property on its own. The department wants to move its communications to the location and upgrade to a 100-watt generator from the current 50-watt generator, the draft minutes said.

Bender said it will not be a cell phone tower. He estimated the radio tower might stand between 50 and 70 feet high.

It was pointed out during the meeting that there was no certainty that the property would be available for purchase again, according to the draft minutes.

The motion to enter the purchase and sale was made by Michael Powers and seconded by Steve Haines. It passed unanimously, according to the draft minutes.

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On the Danby Families Facebook page, Mike Abbott voiced disapproval over the Select Board making the purchase without input from residents.

“It is a tract of land the town will spend our tax dollars on without town approval [Saturday],” he said. “I am very disappointed in our town select board for not involving us the taxpayers.”

Danby resident Annette Smith, a previous candidate for Select Board, acknowledged the board has the power to enter into purchase and sale agreements and to meet in executive session to discuss such matters. The board also has the authority to spend the town’s allotment of ARPA funds, she added.

But Smith questioned whether the board has followed through on recommendations that ARPA dollars be spent with community input. And she wanted to know what the plan will be for the property going forward, saying the plan presented Saturday seemed a work in progress.

“They bought a perfectly decent house. I’m upset they’re tearing down the house. That will decrease the value of the property,” Smith said. “They’re paying $150,000 for something that will be worth $65,000 or less.”

“And all this may be beneficial to the fire department and a good thing, but the way it’s being done is antithetical to good democratic process,” Smith added.

Bender said the house is in “very bad condition. ... There are serious doubts it could pass a home inspection, which was why we were able to get the price we did.”

An executive session to discuss the matter was not on the warned agenda for the board’s July 14 meeting. But a session for “a personnel matter and a real estate matter” was added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting – neither were specified – and the board spent about an hour in deliberation before returning out of executive session and adjourning.

Draft minutes also show that the board, meeting on site at Flower Brook Bridge at 9 a.m. Friday, July 22 to discuss reopening Short Cut Road and signing the Northshire Rescue contract, amended that agenda to add an “executive session for real estate matter,” and did so for 20 minutes.

Smith said she felt the late addition to the agenda was “really disrespectful,” and that the board should have been more precise about the nature of the executive session from the start rather than amending the agenda during the meeting.

But Bender said the board is doing its job – and in his estimation, doing it well, achieving goals where previous boards faltered.

“You elect people to the select board to do a job, then all the sudden when they do something that people may or may not be in favor of, then we have to open to the whole process to the public and debate it for two years,” he said.

“I feel that people have had enough faith to elect good people to the Select Board that know what they’re doing, and fiscally conservative and carried out good plans for the town,” he said.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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