B y Bill Toscano
The long and winding road to a new site for Whitehall’s town office just got a little longer.
Town Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon said Tuesday he has been in contact with the owners of the former Garden Time building on U.S. Route 4 and he is considering recommending the town choose that site over the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company.
The board has already voted to move to Skenesborough, but that vote was 3-2, and some board members have concerns over legal issues the village, which owns the building and land, raised after the agreement.
“They contacted me,” he said of the Garden Time owners. “They said that hadn’t seen anything about us having moved, so we went over and talked to them.”
Gordon said the price for the building has been reduced to $215,000, and while the maximum the town would have to pay for the firehouse is $150,000, he said the town can offset the cost by renting part of the Garden Time building.
“That building is in better shape than the firehouse,” he said. “We will need to do some work to get into the firehouse. Garden Time, we could move in there quicker.”
Gordon said Garden Time “was my choice all along,” but the board voted to move to the firehouse because the offer is to pay $20,000 annually until a new fire district is formed, with a maximum payment of $150,000. There is no agreement in writing, but the town and village attorneys have been working on one.
The renewed talk of using the Garden Time site startled the members of the village board, who met Monday night and were apprised of the situation by Mayor Francis “Fra” Putorti.
The board voted to remove any clauses that involved the firehouse “reverting” to the village if the town left. After a suggestion by Trustee Walt Sanford, the board voted to sell the firehouse with the only stipulation being that the building always be used as a municipal building. In the past, Putorti has discussed the idea of moving the village offices across to the canal and joining the town in the firehouse. There has been nothing done officially on that idea. Putorti had the village office building appraised at just over $100,000.
The town has been using the New York State Canal Corp.’s Visitors’ Pavilion for its offices for a number of years, and the Canal Corp. has been urging the town to move to its own offices. When he was sworn in as supervisor nearly 13 months ago, Gordon said his priority was to find a permanent home for the offices. Now, he wants to take one final look.
“I want to go for the best deal I can and do what’s best for the town,” Gordon said. “I want to bring it to the board.”
Gordon said he would like the board to decide at its Feb. 9 meeting. There are some issues involving that vote. Board member Jim Putorti cannot vote on moving to Skenesborough, because he is that department’s chief. Farrell Prefontaine, also a board member, has been out of town and has not attended the last two meetings. Richard LaChapelle and David Hollister have both expressed some concern over the move to the firehouse, specifically the village’s issues and the lack of a written agreement.
Mayor Putorti has said in the past that he was under the impression that the move to Skenesborough was “a done deal.” He said he was very surprised when Gordon came to see him Monday with the news about Garden Time.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting,” Putorti said. “I thought he was going to tell me that everything was finalized for the firehouse.”
Gordon made it clear the town is not considering buying the Whitehall Armory from the state for $1 and moving the town offices there. “The board just does not think that is feasible,” Gordon said, adding that he still supports businessman Richard Corsetti’s proposal to develop a community cultural center for the building. “We’re going to do everything we can to help Mr. Corsetti. We are 100 percent behind that proposal.”