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Belville officials weigh purchase of town hall office space

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By Brian Slattery

Belville officials have put a hold on making town offices off U.S. 17 a permanent location for town hall, but didn’t put a stop to the proposal.

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The town board on Aug. 26 scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, Sept. 4, for the full board to review the offer to purchase the rented offices.

Commissioner Charles Bost was absent from the Aug. 26 town meeting. During the meeting, Noreen Slattery was appointed commissioner to complete former commissioner James Sheehan’s remaining four months on the town board.

Belville rents three offices in the Waterford Business Center — also known by The Village Shoppes sign on the building — which is a block west of the Waterford Medical Center. The town hall has a Leland mailing address — 497 Olde Waterford Way, Suite 205.

The town held a public hearing during the Aug. 26 meeting to receive input from residents on a proposal to buy the three rented office spaces in the Waterford Business Center condominium.

Town Attorney Jim Eldridge explained to the audience of more than a dozen residents the offices have been offered at a purchase price of $480,000.

An offer town staff negotiated with building owner Bert Exum would allow the town to pay monthly installments, beginning with $988 a month for the first year, then $988 plus 50 percent of the expenses for the building in the second year.

Commissioner Joe Breault, who worked on the sale proposal, said the town’s lease agreement ends in December, at which point the rent would go month-to-month, possibly doubling the current $3,500 rent.

Eldridge said the town could renegotiate the rent so it would not automatically double in price.

The town would own 26.75 percent of the building, which would give it a seat on the board of the condominium association.

The town would also have to pay its percentage of any assessments for the building’s insurance, any unforeseen building needs as well as a percentage of the costs for needs in the business park that includes the town hall condominium.

Eldridge said recent expenses for the building cost $82,000.

The seat on the board was a bone of contention for some members of the public and town officials, because the town would have one vote out of three, with building owner Exum and Diane Stewart holding the other seats.

Donna Ibbs said during the public hearing she was concerned the 2-1 vote advantage by the building owners would put the town on the losing end of any decisions.

“Who’s to say (they will want) to make repairs, they vote OK and Belville has to come up with $100,000,” Ibbs said.

John Clark agreed the town would have no control over decisions.

“We will have little or no say,” Clark said. “My wife and I suggest strongly that we do not approve this decision.”

Mayor Mike Allen agreed with the residents’ view.

“It sounds like the town can make suggestions and Exum will make the decisions,” Allen said.

Allen said he didn’t believe the property would resell if the town bought it.

Stewart Smith said he would rather see town hall move closer to Belville’s downtown, near U.S. 133 and the Brunswick River.

Mark McAllister said the current location, on the western edge of Belville town limits and surrounded by Leland, means residents don’t know they have a town hall.

“I asked 10 people about town hall, all 10 had no idea what is going on. Two told me it is already being built — that’s Leland,” McAllister said. “Those 10 people are not here … all 10 people had no idea this is Belville’s town hall.”

McAllister said he thought four years ago moving into the condominium offices was a good idea, but now he wants town hall moved back to downtown.

Tony Huskey, a candidate for commissioner in the November election, said the board shouldn’t take action on buying the offices but should re-evaluate the offer.

“I don’t think Bert Exum is in a hurry to kick us out,” Huskey said. “He does not want us to leave. I think he’ll work with us.”

Huskey also asked if Exum is involved in the town’s proposed Riverwalk project on the Brunswick River. Breault said there have been no negotiations involving the Riverwalk project.

Once the public hearing closed, Breault addressed some of the complaints residents had with purchasing the property.

He said the building was appraised at $880,000, so if the town bought at $480,000 and later wanted to sell, there is a chance to make money selling the offices.

Breault also said building a new town hall in downtown Belville would be too expensive at much more than $1 million.

Mayor Pro Tem Donna Schardien clarified the space the town was looking at buying was valued around $800,000.

“I think $480,000 is a fantastic price. At that price it is really worth looking at,” she said.

But Allen said despite believing the purchase to be a good financial deal, he couldn’t support it. He said even though his role is as a non-voting town official, he would fight the purchase even if commissioners agreed to it.

“My problem is with the town in a condominium agreement. There are only three towns in North Carolina in condominium agreements and none signed up when they were not in charge of the condominium association,” Allen said.

“It is up to the board to decide, but if you approve it, it will not be with my consent. I will fight it and not be a proponent for the commissioners,” he said. “As mayor, all I have is a voice. So I will voice my disapproval.”

Slattery, the new commissioner, said by listening to the comments, she felt the people don’t want the town to buy the offices.

But she offered a motion to table the decision until commissioner Bost was there to vote.

Commissioners agreed to table a decision and planned the special meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 4 in the commissioners’ meeting room.

 

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.