With a court appointed receiver about to sell a valuable piece of Attleboro Redevelopment Authority-owned real estate to pay off a jury award, the city council voted Tuesday night to spend $355,500 to resolve four lawsuits that have dragged on for years and tied up the cash-strapped ARA legally and financially.
Councilors, who voted 9-1 in favor of the action, said the decision was agonizing, but is the right one for the future of the city and the ARA.
The decision was difficult because when the industrial business park project started more than a decade ago, the city was told that no city money would be used.
Although the lawsuits were originally filed against the ARA, it was clear the city would become liable, adding pressure to act, officials said.
Richard Conti cast the only no vote. Resolving the longstanding court cases untie a legal knot that has stymied ARA progress on its industrial business park and downtown revitalization projects, councilors said.
The decision came after a two hour and 15 minute session behind closed doors with Mayor Kevin Dumas, members of the ARA board including Chairwoman Judy Robbins and City Solicitor Robert Mangiaratti.
Dumas said the cash will come from a supplemental distribution of local aid from the state and will not affect the city's budget or its cash reserves. He said it marks a significant step forward in the resolution of legal cases against the ARA.
"This takes care of four creditors," the mayor said. "Now we just have one to go."
Mangiaratti said the receiver aimed to sell an ARA-owned lot at the corner of Wall and South Main streets in about two weeks to pay off a jury award of almost $200,000 owed to Beverly Ebert for 4.4 acres the ARA took from her in 2005 for $71,000.
That Wall Street lot, which is important to the ARA's downtown revitalization project, was targeted because the ARA owns it outright. Robbins said the receiver has held up ARA progress on both its major projects because he controls all ARA finances. In addition, state and federal agencies have been reluctant to grant money to the downtown project with unresolved judgments hanging over the ARA.
"The receiver has had us absolutely stopped from doing anything," Robbins said. "Now, we can sell (the Wall Street parcel) and the money can go back into the (the downtown project).
Brian Kirby, chairman of the council's budget committee, endorsed the move.
Paying the debt will put an end to escalating legal fees and interest that was accumulating at the rate of $340 a day in one case. He said it was the least damaging and least costly decision.
"This will stop the bleeding," he said. "I see this as the dawn breaking (for the ARA).
"I see it as a nuclear cloud on the horizon," he said.
He argued it will cost the city more money later.
Courtesy of The Sun Chronicle