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City ups field bid

November 6, 2012
Morning Journal News

CHESTER - For the second time in as many months, the city of Chester and the Chester Volunteer Fire Department are teaming up to offer to buy Newell Memorial Field from the Hancock County school board.

Chester City Council voted Monday to authorize Mayor Ken Morris to take the offer and a check for $250,000 to Hancock County Schools Superintendent Suzan Smith this afternoon. Smith declined to comment about the offer.

"The only thing I'll say is this would have to be board approved," she said.

The board is scheduled to meet in special session at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss and possibly take action on the sale of the football stadium, which it declared surplus property in June. It is unclear whether the board will consider the city's offer on Wednesday.

The city's latest offer comes almost a month after its first offer, in which it said an anonymous donor would front the money - $250,000 - and the city would act as a "middle man." The city's initial offer included the fire department taking ownership of the property and reimbursing the donor.

This time, the fire department will write a check for $250,000 to the city, and the city will pay the school district. "The city is not going to be out a dime," Morris said.

City Solicitor April Raines said the city needs the money from the fire department for the offer to be valid. "I will not have anybody sign any contract until we have the cash in hand," she said.

Chester fire Chief John Hissam said that's no problem. "This is something we've been trying to do for two and a half months - from day one," he said. "We're still trying. It's as simple as that."

Hissam met briefly in executive session with Morris and city council members before the offer was announced. Council voted 4-0 to move forward with the offer. Councilman Brian Handley abstained because he is on the fire department.

The Chester Volunteer Fire Department has shown an interest in the 4.25-acre piece of property in Newell since July, when it offered to pay $150,000, then $300,000, to the school board. Smith rejected that offer because she said the law prohibits her from dealing with a non-governmental entity.

West Virginia law requires school district property to be disposed of at public auction unless it is sold to: the state or one of its political subdivisions for an "adequate consideration"; the federal government for a federal flood control project; or a private, non-profit organization for a "nominal consideration."

The school district no longer needs Newell Memorial Field, which it used for home football games for 61 years, now that it has a new multi-sports complex at Oak Glen High School.

The public auction went forward on Oct. 25, but there was only one bidder - the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, which bid $200,000 below the minimum bid set by the school board. Board members rejected the $50,000 bid on Oct. 29.

Hissam said the fire department wants the property for its own use, including its annual Fall Bash fundraiser, and to keep it in community hands for use by youth athletic leagues and other organizations.

The fire department is well-positioned financially to make such an offer to the school board. The department, registered as a charity under the name of the Chester Volunteer Firemen's Association, showed net assets for 2011 in the amount of $1.3 million, according to the Form 990 it must file annually with the Internal Revenue Service.

In other business Monday, city council:

* Had a first reading on legislation to ban golf carts on city streets;

* Approved a bid of $3,050 from Sayre Electric Inc., of East Liverpool, to do electrical upgrades to Chester Municipal Building;

* Authorized Morris to interview candidates to fill an expected police officer vacancy; and

* Accepted the resignation of longtime maintenance man Lonnie Stockdale and authorized the advertisement of a part-time maintenance position.



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