With the startling revelation that Star Valley’s town hall lease is up three months, no definite plans have been laid and the property is in bankruptcy court, the town could soon be without a home.
Town Attorney and Manager Tim Grier said the issue is so grave; it keeps him up at night.
“It worries me a lot,” he said to the council Tuesday night.
Worried that they could find themselves out in the cold, the council went ahead with tentative plans to buy the current space and approved a letter of intent stating their intent to do so.
Although the letter is non-binding, it is a needed first step that shows a bankruptcy judge they are interested.
The town is offering $240,000 for the space, the amount remaining on the note.
“I believe this is a smart fiscal move for the town,” Grier said.
Currently, the town pays $2,065 a month in rent to property owner Ray Lyons, who owns Star Vale Mobile Home Park, LLC, located next door to town hall.
The town also receives water service for the property through a shared well in Star Vale. For the town, purchase of the property is contingent upon a shared well agreement. Without such agreement, the town could find itself without water if someone were to take over Star Vale and deny the town service later.
The property has its own septic system, but there is concern there is not enough parking. At normal council meetings, the limited parking is not a concern, but when a contentious item is on the agenda, residents are forced to park in Star Vale.
Also of concern, several council members were leery offering a specific amount for the space when an appraisal has not been done.
Grier said a bankruptcy judge is not going to seriously consider an offer lower than the current note. Secondly, “we are a long way from making this deal happen,” so there is room for negotiations, he said.
Councilor Vern Leis asked Grier what would happen if they could not negotiate a purchase deal or find a new space by June.
“Can we negotiate an extended lease?” he asked.
“I don’t know who we would be negotiating with,” Grier said.
Although buying the property is the most feasible option currently, Grier pointed out there are other alternatives.
The town could purchase land and either build a town hall from the ground up or place a modular unit on site. Grier estimated this would cost at least three times as much as buying the existing space.
Alternatively, they could buy or rent an existing commercial space; however, they are few available spaces that fit the town’s need.
Finally, under the Township Act, they could negotiate buying Forest Service land and building a town hall.
Leis said they are looking into this option, but it will take six to 10 months to get the land exchange approved through Washington plus additional time to build a structure.
Grier said hopefully the current letter of intent will be in front of judge within a month and the town will learn if the sale is possible.
“This could happen quickly or slowly,” he said. “But we need to sign it tonight.”
Also at the meeting, the council learned it has been approved to receive a $140,000 Community Development Block Grant for a crossing at Valley Road. A March 24 meeting was set to hand out packets to potential engineers. The meeting is not mandatory and engineers can pick up a packet at Town Hall later.
A five-person selection committee will pick the engineering firm. That committee has not been formed.