Thursday, January 3, 2013

From January 5, 2012: Can't Sell Your Property In Southbridge?

Neither Can the Town, But Either Way
It's Your Problem!

Ken O'Brien

Yesterday’s article in the Worcester Telegram, “In Southbridge, officials to consider bargain sale of town-owned buildings: 5 vacant buildings could be available”, brought to mind an article I posted just over a year ago.

The Telegram article reports, “Town Manager Christopher Clark said he will recommend that the Town Council approve selling five buildings for one-third of their assessed value.
“Mr. Clark said in an interview Monday the town needs to sell the vacant town-owned buildings and spur economic growth.
“The manager has been trying to sell four of the buildings since 2010, when the properties’ values were most recently assessed. At present, the buildings are for sale at two-thirds of their assessed values. Mr. Clark wants to knock off another third.”

Clark is quoted as saying, “I think that the recommendation needs to be bold. We need to … find people to come in and occupy these buildings, and get people employed.”

This, along with all of the employment we’ve gained from the three sites sold at a discount at the landfill/technology park, makes me wonder how many more “bold” ideas we can take.  For the oh-so-disturbing sake of repeating “I told you so”, here is my post from last year reprinted as an omen of what to expect in the year ahead.

Tomorrow will mark two years since our town manager announced his plan to sell surplus town buildings to infuse cash into the town coffers.

I want to thank Jim Sottile for reminding me of this fact.

With all the fanfare that can be afforded by the front page of the Southbridge Evening News it was announced on January 6, 2010, "Appraising properties: Subcommittee OKs Estimates Ahead of Town Buildings' Sale".

According to the article, "At issue are properties the manager hopes to sell to raise money for the new school project — Wells Junior High School, 70 Foster St., 115 Marcy St., and 114 and 62 Pleasant St. Except for Wells, they have assessed values between $318,000 and $971,000, but such values are not generally seen as useful on the commercial market because they don’t actually pay any taxes now. That also applies to Wells,which is assessed at about $6.3 million."

In what can only be described as the same kind of false hopes we've heard about the so-called "technology [formerly industrial] park", the article went on to report, "Clark said he’s already had several people express interest in some of the buildings, particularly those on Pleasant and Foster streets."

As we now know, those feeble words of aspirative assurance have come to naught. 

The town manager was confronted with the same reality that has stymied those who have attempted to follow the advice of our current council chair that if you don't like the way things are going, sell your house and move.

You see, even if you want to sell out and get out, virtually nobody's buying Southbridge property. And this despite the masterful marketing campaign “Make Southbridge Home”. More like "Make Southbridge Home of the Homeless".

We saw the consequences of this newest pipe dream policy when it came to confronting the new budget and the issue of our latest tax increase. The hoped for influx of cash just wasn't there.

In addition, there was the need to re-jigger the whole bond issue structure for the new school.

So we still have the maintenance costs for these properties, which had already been diminished by this scheme. From the same article, “...Clark said he intends to fund the $9,950 cost [of the appraisal] 'from various funding sources related to the various structures,' such as maintenance line items.”

Increased taxes, surplus real estate with the accompanying maintenance costs, complications with state agencies for restructuring the additional town debt associated with the new school and the wasted expense of a professional appraisal.

Perhaps all this is just one more reason to seriously consider the proposal that I put forward in Let's Pay for Performance in Southbridge Town Government.


  1. “Let's Pay for Performance in Southbridge Town Government
    .........And Let’s Start at The Top"..........

    Management Salary: Current Status - “Refund Overdue”!

  2. I totally agree time to cut management salary and benefits. No more should we pay for a car for him to drive back and forth to work. He hasn't proved any of his worth to this town what so ever and I knew someone who wanted to purchase one of these vacant buildings and due to the amount of work needed on the building the person made an offer lower than the asking price and our GREAT TOWN MANAGER refused the offer and may I say it was a decent offer. Time to start picketing town hall I feel.

    1. "our GREAT TOWN MANAGER" appears to be in C.Y.A. Mode.

    2. I totally agree that the town manager's car should be sold and money put into Town treasury.Also Managers at the Town Barn,Fire and Police should use there own personal cars and pay for there own gas.$$$ Thousands of dollars could be saved every year by doing this.Chris Clark has led this town over the cliff with every thing he has done!!!... I say lets start looking for a conservative manager, and not a big spender...

  3. "Tomorrow will mark two years since our town manager"

    Shouldn't that read three (3) yrs.?

    1. The article is a re-post originally written in 2012.

    2. Cumulatively speaking of course...(3) years is now correct.

  4. With all the B and Complaining, Chris seems to be the stabilizing influence in this town's government. With all the highly publicized squabbles and investigations in town politics, (the School Committee, the Town Council, the Board of Health . . .) why would anyone want to invest in the town. Chris has done an excellent job of moving the town forward into the 21st century, but to many people want to cling to their old ways. They not only cling to them; they aggressively fight for them using the tactics of character assassination and general mudslinging. Until the political climate of Southbridge calms down there will be no investment in the future. And, there will never be a town manager who will be "the right" candidate for the job.

  5. If we have to reduce the price of these properties by 2/3 from their assessed values, doesn't anybody else wonder about the legitimacy of other assessed values around town?
    After all, assessed value is supposed to reflect full and fair market value. Market value is determined by what you can sell something for.

    Maybe, now that the tax rate has been set, every property owner in town should apply for an abatement based on this precedent. Let's see how Mr. Clark and the clown council manage when their tax revenues are cut by two-thirds.

    It would seem that failure to deal with such an attempt at abatements might be grounds for a class action suit worth millions.

    1. Most likely at that stage; TM Clark will either resign or request special legislation.

  6. As of today (1/6/2013), according to the “Assessors Online Database For Southbridge, MA” conflicting values exist:

    Wells Middle: 80 Marcy Street - Assessed Value $7,921,900.
    Day Care Ctr: 115 Marcy Street - Assessed Value $ 957,400.
    Water Shed: 70 Foster St. - Assessed Value $ 575,500.
    DPW Bldg: 62 Pleasant St. - Assessed Value $ 351,000.
    MacKinnon Ctr: 114 Pleasant St. - Assessed Value $ 806,700.

  7. In honor of Councilor Laurent R. McDonald: Town of Webster, Ma 12/2012':

    Tax Rate: $12.47 - Residential
    Tax Rate: $19.26 - Commercial

  8. The Town of Southbridge is extremely top heavy.

  9. I live in a single family home and was surprised to see my tax bill go down quarterly by $87.00.

    1. Your tax gain will be a close neighbor’s loss.

    2. Wow, I wonder how that happened. Our tax bill went up once again... this time $70 per quarter. In the meantime the value of it has certainly not gone up....

    3. The assessed value of your home has little to do with the property tax you pay. If all the property in Southbridge suddenly dropped 50% in value your property tax would still go up to cover the guarenteed pay raises negotiated into the contracts of almost all employees, increased heath insurance costs for employess, increased utility costs, etc. That is, your taxes would still go up unless someone started setting priorities and holding the line on the budget. That would take hard work and there are a lot of vested interests that would work equally hard to make sure it never happened.

    4. I totally understand that taxes will not go down because my property values have dropped in the last 5 years by at least a third. However, I do expect someone to do exactly as you suggest, setting priorities and making sure everything is as efficient as possible. Who wants to move to a town with toxic water, a terrible smell in the air in some parts of town, empty storefronts and run down buildings everywhere which also has property taxes that are quite high, compared to those of our neighbors? I am not surprised at all at all the empty buildings and houses that have been for sale for years now... I would not move here either, given the current situation in this town.

  10. We have a town government that serves its own interests instead of the interests of the taxpayers. Then the TM and all the dept. heads drive home to their affluent communities with good school systems. Think about it, all they spend money on is their own high salaries and fancy new equipment that makes their jobs easier. The town keeps getting worse, but they keep making more money. We need to clean house and get a government that works for the people.

  11. Keep Wells and we could solve the overcrowding issues at the new school. Move the 5th and 6th grades in there. If that's possible with the loan structure by the state.


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