Berlin Council Moves Ahead With $828K Property Purchase

BERLIN – After favorable
support overwhelmed the opposition to a proposed land buy for a future
community center and new police station, the Berlin Mayor and Council voted to
go ahead with the land purchase.

Just three town council
members voted on the purchase ordinance after Council members Troy Purnell and

Paula Lynch recused themselves because of business connections to the sellers.            

The town council
recently proposed to buy the 6.5-acre parcel at the corner of Route 113 and Bay
St. as the future site of a community center, police station and potentially a
water tower. Nothing will be built on the land for at least five years, Mayor
Gee Williams said.

Two appraisals of the
land came in at $1,215,000, and $915,000. The town negotiated a purchase price
of $828,530, with interest only to be paid the first five years, about $37,000
a year. The town intends to use slot machine revenue to pay off the property,
which Williams called a conservative and realistic approach.

The public hearing on
the proposed purchase packed the town council meeting room on Monday night with
every seat taken. Williams called for the opposition to speak first.

The land purchase, said
Gerry Mortensen, is ill-advised and inappropriate, especially since viable
alternatives exist. The town is already undertaking several large projects,
such as the wastewater treatment plant expansion, and is running the electric
plant, which continues to be a drain on the town funds.

Mortensen said the town
council’s primary responsibility is to reduce spending and taxes.

“There are a number of
other projects in the town limits that have not been completed and need to be
addressed … the streets and the roads in the town of Berlin are horrible,” said
Michael Michalik.

He also wondered about
the amount the property was valued at before the town had the property
appraised.

Sue Beaman also opposed
the land purchase and read two posts from her blog questioning the proposed
purchase. Beaman wrote that the $832,000 price tag is a lot of money for six
acres of undeveloped land. She also wondered why the town suddenly wants a new
police station. A larger police station means more police officers, which means
more cost to the town, Beaman contended. She is also concerned about extra debt
from the purchase and the projects proposed for the site.

Instead of a new
community center, the town should consider rehabilitating the current
multi-purpose building, Beaman said.

The town should have
presented all land purchase options to the public, not just one, she felt.

Georgie Evans said she
agreed with Beaman and does not want her taxes to go up.

Diane Miceli, who owns a
house in Decatur Farm that overlooks the site, expressed concerns over her property
value if those structures are built. People using the community center and
emergency vehicle noise could be a problem, she felt.

Speakers in supports of
the land purchase and planned projects for the site outnumbered the opposition
10 to 5.

Worcester County State’s
Attorney, Joel Todd, a Berlin resident, supported the purchase. Todd noted that
he spearheaded the Take Pride in Berlin initiative to reduce crime along Bay
Street and Flower Street, which showed the most calls for police services in a
study.

“I think we’ve done a
good job of reducing the calls for service in that area,” said Todd.

Todd said he felt a
police station in that area would fit in well with efforts to curb crime in
that neighborhood.

“From a public safety
standpoint, I think without question it’s better because you’re putting a
police station where the problem is,” Todd said.

This site is a better
choice for public safety than the other sites considered, he said. The
community center also works to foster more community involvement in the Take
Pride initiative, which is already strong, Todd said.

Bud Church, who
represents Berlin as a County Commissioner, also supported the land purchase,
though he said he was speaking as a private citizen and not an elected
official. Church said he applauded the Mayor and Council for their forward
thinking.

As a realtor with 39
years experience, Church said that buying property at below market value was a
prudent purchase in the current real estate market. “They don’t make any more
real estate,” Church said.

The plan to use slots
money is a good one, said Church, since community slots money will only be able
to be used in a limited numbers of ways.

“It can only be applied
to certain projects. This project is probably one of the best qualifying projects
you could find for those funds,” he said.

Five years is plenty of
time to accrue slots money. The terms, paying interest only for five years, is
a smart move, Church said.

A police station
actually should increase home values.

“I’d prefer to have a
police station in my neighborhood than a drug dealer in my neighborhood,” said
Church.

The current Berlin
police station dates back to the 1950s, he noted. “It’s time Berlin had a new
police station. It’s past time,” Church said.

Michael Wiley, chair of the
Berlin Parks Commission, but speaking, he said, as a private citizen, said a
community center would be important to the increase in youth programs the town
is planning.

Sarah Hooper, a Parks
Commission member also speaking as a private citizen, said that the proposed
future community center fits the mission of the parks in Berlin.

The property proposed
for purchase is the former home farm of Hooper’s grandfather and grandmother,
who were both civic minded, Hooper said, and who would have approved of the
civic use proposed by the town.

“I feel that we are way
behind where the community center is concerned,” Gabriel Purnell said. All
three of the other county towns, and Ocean Pines, have community centers, he
said.

While Berlin has the
multi-purpose building, it is not in good shape, and needs rehabilitation.

A new community center
is the best use of the town’s funds, Purnell said. There should be no problems
with crowds making noise at the community center, since the police station will
be built on the same property.

“I think it’s a good
combination and a good place to put the two,” Purnell said.

If the projects do not
work out, the town can probably sell the land for a profit, he said.

Then Purnell asked east
side supporters of the purchase to stand up. Several audience members stood in
support.

“I think it’s the
perfect place for the town to buy for its future,” Joe Moore said.

Moore, a lawyer who has
represented Ocean Pines for over 27 years, said that four referendums to build
a new community center in that development have failed and every time the cost
of the facility has gone up.

“I think it’s a forward
thinking move,” Moore said of the town’s proposed land buy.

“I think it’s very much
needed in our community,” said Beth Gilbert, manager of Decatur Apartments. The
biggest problem the families in her apartment complex have, she said, is
affording activities for their children in other communities.

A community center in
the neighborhood will also bring back a sense of pride to the community,
Gilbert said.

“There is no price you
can put on our children’s direction. We want them to become productive
citizens,” said Phyllis Purnell. She added that she is proud of the council for
even considering the new community center.

Purnell said that as a
Christian, she opposes slot machine gambling, but since that fight has been
lost, and the money will come to the town, it should be used to benefit the
citizens.

Patricia Duffendach, a
Parks Commission member speaking as a private citizen, said she was pleased the
town council was considering the future projects.

“We’re saying, we want a
community center … we need services for our citizens,” Duffendach said.

The community is crying
out for programs local children can get involved in, Duffendach said.

Diana Purnell, part of
an organization that works with local youth, said that the community center is
badly needed on the east side of town. Berlin needs a nice facility like
everywhere else.

“I applaud you for what
you’re doing and have done because you’ve done some great things for the kids
on the east side,” said Purnell.

She also noted that a
police station on the east side would be very visible to people coming into the
east side neighborhoods.

The town council
followed the public hearing with a quick motion to purchase the land. The vote
was unanimous.

Councilman Elroy
Brittingham has been campaigning for a community center for 22 years.

“There’s no way in the
world I would sit up here tonight and not vote for that ordinance,” Brittingham
said.

 

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