BERLIN — The city council Monday night had its first reading of the fiscal 2022 budget and tabled it for a public hearing and passage at the June 21 council meeting.
The general fund budget is $37.5 million, an increase of $1.7 million over the current budget or $1.87 on the city tax rate.
Mayor Paul Grenier said he expects the city will receive additional state funding that will allow it to reduce the anticipated tax increase.
The council continued its review of 2020 property tax abatement applications. City Manager James Wheeler presented 26 abatement recommendations by Corcoran Consulting Associates, Inc. In the latest batch, Corcoran recommended approving 16 applications and denying 10.
The council also reviewed two settlement agreements for tax years 2018 and 2019 recommended by KRT Appraisals. The council voted to follow the recommendations of the two consulting firms.
The city is still without a board of assessors so the task of ruling on the applications falls to the council.
The council renewed its discussion on the 190 Glen Ave. property.
City Manager James Wheeler last month had included the two-story building on the list of tax deeded properties targeted for demolition as part of the city’s infiltration and inflow reduction project. The city received a grant allowing it to demolish dilapidated buildings with flat roofs that feed storm water into the sewer system.
Councilor Lucie Remillard had asked the city manager to hold off on including the 190 Glen Ave. property to allow her to view it. After viewing it, Remillard said she thought it was a nice two-family property and the city should put it out for sale.
Mayor Paul Grenier asked Wheeler for an estimate to demolish the building as well as the cost to do the I&I work.
Wheeler estimated the cost to demolish the building is in the $10,000 to $15,000 range while it will cost between $!5,000 and $20,000 to do the I&I (infiltration and inflow) work.
Grenier said even if someone agrees to purchase the building, it will likely cost the city money because the purchase price will probably not cover the I&I work. He also asked the amount of unpaid taxes on the property and was told around $33,000 to $35,000. Grenier said if the council puts it on the market, he would like the bid to include the I&I work.
Remillard said the city could put the property on the market with a minimum bid established. The successful bidder would be given a year to renovate the building.
Councilor Mike Rozek agreed with Remillard, noting that the real estate market is hot right now.
“It’s worth a shot,” he said.
Councilor Roland Theberge said he would like to get a report on the property from the city’s building inspector before voting on the issue. Wheeler said the demolition work is not going out for bids for a while so the council can discuss it further.
The council agreed to sell a large tax deeded building at 218 Blanchard St. to David and Donna Fortier for $1 with the understanding the couple will demolish the building and add the land to their abutting property on Hillside Avenue.
The owners of Fortier & Associates, the couple said they have done demolitions around the city and have the capacity to remove the blighted building. In their letter, the Fortiers point out the city will save money since it pays their company to mow the lawn on the Blanchard property.
Berlin Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said the city put the Blanchard property out for bids in 2019 and there was no interest in the it. The building has been vacant for a number of years.
Grenier requested the council approve using money from its contingency fund to add some fresh loam and reseed the front section of Veterans Memorial Park. He said the veterans group did a great job consolidating the monuments there but the soils in the front section are not good and the grass seed hasn’t sprouted.
Grenier said making the park look beautiful is a way to honor the city’s veterans.
“The city should finish the job. Let’s do it right,” he said.
He suggested the city manager send out a request for proposals from Berlin companies that can do the landscaping project.
Grenier said there is $9,200 in the contingency account.
Councilor Peter Higbee said he thought the mayor’s request was a great idea. He said right now the front end of the park consists of sand, rocks, and gravel. The council agreed to go out for quotes and to make a final decision when the cost is kown.
The council received a letter from the state Liquor Commission notifying it that Mountainside LLC has applied for a combined beverage/wine/tobacco license for an establishment at 83 Main St. The council agreed to support the application.
The Secretary of State’s website lists Mountainside LLC as a Gorham-based company owned by Timothy and Kathleen Leonard. It previously was known as White Mountain Cigar Company.