November 21, 2017LITTLETON—It's safe to say that whenever there are more than two lawyers at a town meeting, something interesting is happening. There were four at last Monday's selectmen's meeting, two of them representing parties in the ongoing industrial park land transfer debate. The selectmen will decide whether to sell the 42-acre parcel for $1 to Littleton Industrial Development Corporation at a future scheduled meeting.
While there were oblique hints of a costly legal battle over the procedural details of the hearings, the real meat of the debate centered around whether or not Littleton was giving up something for nothing, or getting something in return.
Estimates of the parcel's market value have averaged around $90,000 in current dollars. If the parcel was sold, the proceeds would shave 11 cents per thousand off the tax rate for one year. That's worth about $17 to the average Littleton homeowner ($155,000).
Budget Committee member Dianne Cummings pointed out that commercial and industrial property values rose by $4 million this year, while utilities cratered by $8 million. She sees the continued growth of LIDC as essential to the financial health of the town.
"The commercial and industrial dug us out of a gutter," she explained.
Brian Ward, who served on LIDC's board between 1994 and 2004, emphasized that the organization is a non-profit, run by unpaid volunteers who offer the town an economic development service out of civic duty.
"Nobody gets paid," Ward insisted, "For forty-five years, people have volunteered their time."
Kim DeLutis questioned whether the land would be of any use—she quoted the conservation commission's report, which reported the parcel was very rugged. She argued that instead of giving away town land that couldn't be developed anyway, that it be turned into a town forest.
According to LIDC board member Chad Stearns, the park has a real shortage of usable land at present. Of the 73 acres left, more than half is in a conservation easement, while the rest is broken into parcels that are either small, or very rough. He said that while much of the discussed parcel would be challenging, there are usable sections that would expand the park's capacity.
The voters empowered the selectmen to sell the parcel in 2014 by a wide margin. Opponents have tried to discredit that vote, claiming that it wasn't intended to permit such a nominal price.
That's the real issue for citizen John Scott.
"The town voted to give you the right to sell our land, not give it away," he argued.
Chamber of commerce veteran Carrie Gendreau said that investing in LIDC was about planning for the town's economic future.
"You have to dig the well before you get thirsty," she said, adding, "We've got to be forward thinking"
Fred Chisom, Burndy plant manager, said that investing in LIDC returned good-paying careers that attract young families to the area. That bolsters his workforce as well: his average worker is 49, with 13 years of service, and aging.
"I don't want to be Saint Johnsbury in 20 years," he remarked. "Saint J. looks like it was a nice town."