Fearing an eminent eviction, the Star Valley council Wednesday approved a $235,000 purchase of a new town hall, despite some council members never stepping foot in the space.
On Thursday evening, the new owners of the current town hall site submitted a short-term month-to-month lease proposal to Town Manager and Attorney Tim Grier to keep the town at its current location.
Despite the last-ditch effort, Grier said he would go ahead with the council’s vote and submit the purchase agreement to the title agency.
At times, Wednesday’s emergency meeting seemed like a strange game of housing options with Grier playing the charming game show host. While one council member thought the game was rigged, others felt they were forced to make a split-second decision with time running down at their current town hall space.
Grier presented behind door No. 1, a new lease agreement with town hall’s new owners; door No. 2, a vacant 1.38-acre parcel behind Circle K at $150,000; door No. 3, a two-story office space formerly occupied by the administrative offices of the Hellsgate Fire Department; door No. 4, a large commercial building on Highway 260 at $325,000; and finally, door No. 5, an $800,000 building also off Highway 260.
“I wanted to be exhaustive in looking at all the options available able,” Grier said when looking at potential sites for a town hall.
In a 4-1 vote, the council went with door No. 3, the fire department’s old digs.
Positives include a “smokin’” price of $234,925, Mayor Bill Rappaport said, and virtually move-in ready condition. Cons include limited parking, small meeting rooms, possible electrical and water issues and no place to hold town hall meetings.
Grier said no more than $40,000 was needed to fix any maintenance issues and make the building handicap accessible. He said the town could hold council meetings in the Lamplighter meeting hall at a nominal price of $50 a month.
If the Lamplighter falls through, the town could holding meetings free at the Gila County Maintenance Yard or Gila County’s building in Payson.
In addition, with $2.7 million sitting in the town’s “reserve” fund, the town is poised to purchase a permanent town hall, Grier said, adding the town was formed to provide services to its residents, not keep money in the bank where it earns minimal interest.
Councilor Vern Leis said with the price of the property “grossly understated from its actual value,” this is the best option for the town at this time, which has been looking for a permanent home for some time.
“We need to have a permanent home,” he said. “Residency gives you permanency.”
Rappaport said it is time the town owned a stable town hall site.
Instead of paying rent every month, “we can use the money to do projects within town.”
However, not everyone on the council was gung-ho about the property.
Councilor Gary Coon said he was apprehensive about buying a building he had never been in, and yet to be appraised. In addition, he needed more time to look over water and sewer documents and decide if this was the best option for the town.
Additionally, Coon questioned the status of negotiations with the attorney of the new owners of the town hall site.
Grier explained behind door No. 1 was the potential for a new lease agreement with new owners Kyle and Lanette Parker.
On March 19, the Parkers became the full title owners of the town hall site after a March 19 trustee sale of seven foreclosure properties formerly owned by Ray Lyons. In addition to town hall, the Parkers became owners of the Terrace Homes Mobile Home Park, Lyons’ home, a vacant lot and several other properties near Star Vale Mobile Home Park.
The town’s former lease with Lyons stood at $2,065 a month. Under the Parkers’ proposed lease, the town would pay an additional 10 percent, making the lease just over $2,200 a month, with the “same terms and conditions currently in effect, but now null and void due to ownership change,” Kyle said in an e-mail to Grier.
The Parkers said the town had the option of signing a one- or five-year lease on or before April 1, prior to the offer made on Thursday evening.
Kyle said he offered the town a five-year lease thinking it would give the town security knowing it had a long-term home. While his original offer was five years, he said Wednesday he was willing to go lower in negotiations, but did not want to lease the space month-to-month.
Until the town signs a lease agreement, buying the building is off the table, the Parkers’ attorney said in an e-mail to Grier.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Kacy Parker, the Parkers’ son, said if the town and his family ultimately came to a purchase agreement, they would end the lease.
Grier said he asked the Parkers’ attorney repeatedly where to send April’s rent. When he got no answer, he felt the Parkers would force the town to leave on April 1 if it did not sign a lease. Grier said he anticipated from what was not said that they would be evicted.
Kacy said his family is more than willing to work with the town on a new lease agreement, however, they did not think it would be fair to offer a month-to-month lease. Kacy said a one-year lease would give the town enough time to investigate property options and “make a rational decision, not an irrational decision.”
Grier asked Kacy what would happen April 1 if the town did not sign a lease agreement.
Kacy said he would not answer that question.
Coon said it appears a lot of miscommunication is going on between Grier and the Parkers’ attorney.
“I don’t think it is appropriate” asking Kacy these questions, Coon said. “We need to be informed. We are jumping into this based on a miscommunication. We are assuming we have an eviction notice coming.”
Despite Coon’s concerns, Leis moved to purchase the 1,950-square-foot building formerly occupied by Hellsgate.
On Thursday, the Parkers’ attorney e-mailed Grier a new offer.
“This e-mail confirms that the Parkers are willing to lease the town hall property to the town of Star Valley on a month-to-month tenancy at the prior rental rate plus 10 percent,” said attorney Christopher J. Charles.
“The Parkers have every intention of allowing the town to keep its current location.”
Grier said despite the new offer, he would go ahead with the purchase agreement the council approved Wednesday.
After Wednesday’s vote, several audience members said they had not had an opportunity to voice their opinions. Star Valley resident and Hellsgate Fire Department employee Angie Lecher said she worked in the building for two years and knows of a few problems.
“It looks in great shape, but it has electrical issues,” she said, adding you cannot drink the water, use the hot water or park more than 10 cars in the parking lot.
“It will be difficult to maintain a business at that place,” she said. The town should have gotten an appraisal before voting.
Star Valley resident Karen Carlen said she was also disappointed the town had not selected a space that allowed for growth and a community area including a park and library.
“We have lost a chance to really have these other things,” she said.
Leis said if the town gets five acres from the Forest Service under the Township Act, it could move in a few years and build a park, lake and town hall complex.
A proposed site for the complex across the street from the intersection of Pinon Circle and Quail Run is appraised at $450,000. Even if the town wanted to buy the land today, it would have to wait several years for the land exchange to get approval from Washington.
After the meeting, Rappaport said anyone in the audience could have voiced his or her opinion during the discussion, but his wife was the only one who spoke up. Anyone who did not, “missed their opportunity,” he said.
Coon said he felt the other councilors went into the meeting knowing what they were going to do and Grier presented the other options for show.
Rappaport disagreed, saying the town was forced to make a quick decision.
“We were pushed into this when the Parkers took over the property,” he said. “They gave us until April 1 and that is why this happened so fast. If they had let us stay month-to-month, we would still be there.”
On Thursday, town staff began moving into the new space, painting the walls and cleaning the carpet.
Grier said the purchase agreement of the new space allows for a temporary lease of the property at $500 a month. Grier estimates it will take about a month to complete an inspection and close.
This is not the first time Star Valley has discussed moving town hall.
In August 2008, former town manager Vito Tedeschi proposed buying a vacant three-acre lot at the northwest corner of Valley Road and Highway 260 for $350,000. Tedeschi envisioned developing a town hall, court, police station, building department and council chambers on the site in 10 years. The council quickly said no to the purchases, fearing they were moving too quickly to spend money.