One of the more effective hits on former Mayor O’Brien’s 2013 campaign was unfounded assertions that he was cutting a deal with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) to sell the city’s water department — the city’s most coveted natural resource.
None other than ex-Congresswoman turned lobbyist Nancy Johnson was trotted out by the Republican campaign to falsely and deliberately spread the rumor that Mayor O’Brien was getting rid of water assets to the tune of $80 million: a big lie that had its origins in former Mayor Tim Stewart’s talks with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) about the city’s regional water assets.
Now comes a plan from the second Stewart administration to sell off a piece of the city’s water resources in Southington in exchange for a cool $ 1.2 million from that town’s government. Southington now pays New Britain a $106,000 annual lease for the water rights.
Mayor Stewart, quoted in her weekly newsletter, assures us that our neighboring town wants the Patton Brook Well for its water plan and that continuing the lease is not an option for either town.
According to the Mayor’s office, Southington offered to buy the Patton Brook parcel for $200,000. Miraculously, Erin Stewart claims she negotiated a sale for $1 million more, adding one-time revenue to the city. The Stewart administration insists that the city is not selling any more water reserves at this time.
|Reservoir near New Britain and Southington line (www.lenard-eng.com)|
But the devil may be in the details here. And it will be up to a public hearing and the Common Council to get these details and more answers that weren’t provided in the Mayor’s braggadocio about her negotiating skills.
Will that $1.2 million sale price obligate New Britain to do infrastructure work on the city’s dime before the sale goes through? If that is the case the city’s return on a sell off of one of its natural assets may not even be close to $1 million. And lost forever is the $106,000 annual income from the longstanding lease with Southington.
There are also questions as to why the sale income would go into city’s general fund instead of the water enterprise department fund as would be customary in transactions involving the water department. The Board of Water Commissioners reportedly approved the deal but with only three members present and one of those Stewart-appointed members abstaining.
No one questions that the city — its structural deficits acknowledged by the current and past mayor — could use revenue over what property taxes and state aid provide. But the selling of public land and natural resources for short term gain is a risky proposition that may cost the city more in the long run.
The public needs to know a lot more about this sales contract before it is approved by the Council and signed by the administration.