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Whitman: Armory auction catches Whitman by surprise
The Enterprise 3/25/04
By Debbie Seele, Enterprise correspondent
WHITMAN ó Officials are questioning the fairness of the state’s method of disposing of surplus property after being surprised by last week’s announcement that the National Guard armory would be auctioned to the highest bidder April 29.
State Rep. Kathleen Teahan and state Sen. Robert Creedon had worked with local officials to file home-rule legislation seeking the return of the armory building and property to the town for use as a police station and regional emergency facility.
While Teahan and town administrator Frank Lynam have followed the disposition of the armory for more than a year and the home-rule legislation is working its way through the Statehouse, the Department of Capital Asset Management notified Teahan a week ago the auction was scheduled for next month.
With no precedent for the state returning land or property to towns free of charge, Whitman seems to have a slim chance of getting the property back.
“The town is welcome to come in and bid for the property,” said Kevin Flanagan, a deputy director at the Division of Planning and Operations at the DCAM. “Anything can happen with regard to legislation, but it is typically required that the town pay fair market value.”
Flanagan said DCAM officially received the property just four weeks ago. He said the auction was scheduled quickly because of a streamlined two-year reform program in effect through June 2005 that allows for property to be disposed of at public auction instead of through legislation.
“This allows us to use an open and competitive process for disposal of property,” said Flanagan. “It does allow us to get property back into productive use and get money back on the tax rolls.”
While Flanagan said his office is “happy with the streamlined process,” Teahan and Lynam said the process is unfair to the towns and municipalities who are, in essence, precluded from the process.
Lynam said the move came too fast for the town to participate in the bidding, as the town has no time to secure an appropriation for a bid.
Lynam noted that because the town has lost $679,902.33 in tax revenue on the property since the state took the land in 1957, the state should return the land to the town.
“I am troubled by it,” said Lynam. “I can’t help but wonder why there is such an urgency to move this property. It appears to have passed all normal channels for disposal of state-owned land.”
Teahan, who has been following the transfer of the armory from the National Guard to DCAM and had been calling every two weeks to check on the status, was surprised to learn last week of the auction.
Teahan said the Whitman Armory was not on the list of armories to be declared surplus by the end of 2003. Weymouth’s armory was and it is also going up for auction April 29.
“I called DCAM every two weeks since and was asking if it was surplused and they never let me know about it until March 16,” said Teahan. “I don’t know if they were trying to slide it through. I have questions about it because I don’t believe they were upfront about it.”
If the goal is to auction the property at the highest possible price to generate the most revenue for the state’s general fund, the auction has not been well publicized.
The Whitman armory is not listed with properties for sale on DCAM’s Web site, and Teahan said it was not listed in the March 23 edition of the secretary of state’s central register, which lists properties for sale by the state.
“How do ordinary people find out about these properties?” asked Teahan.
In response to a question about advertising, Flanagan said DCAM’s Web site has had technical problems of late and the property only needs to appear once in the central register, which he said it did March 17.
Flanagan also said it is listed online on the Web site for auctioneer Paul E. Saperstein at www.pesco.com on Page 7, but admits the site is “unfriendly,” as all properties are listed by date of auction.
Saperstein, a Holbrook resident, is also responsible for advertising the sale in trade publications.
Teahan said the new process became law in 2004 when it was tacked onto the budget as an outside section without the knowledge of rank-and-file legislators.
“It is one of the techniques that leadership has used in the budget that sidetracks the legislative process,” said Teahan.
“We are trying to get the bill passed that we filed to get it for free, but I haven’t seen any other communities get it for free,” said Teahan. “We are trying to get it to the House floor quickly.”