As long as attorney George Welty has served as Ligonier Borough’s solicitor, he’s never overseen an auction of the municipality’s property — let alone two at the same time — until now.
Ligonier Borough Council on Monday voted unanimously to approve an agreement with Mark Ferry Auctioneers to conduct a public auction of the former police station and town hall on North Fairfield Street on Saturday, Jan. 29 — the same day the borough also plans to sell land it owns near Laughlintown.
The two-story Colonial Revival-style building at the corner of North Fairfield Street and Bank Alley was appraised by Professional Real Estate Appraisal Services Inc. of Greensburg for $265,700.
The more than 80-year-old structure was Ligonier Borough’s municipal building from 1938 until it was replaced by the current Town Hall, built in 1967-68. It then housed the borough’s police department until the Ligonier Valley police consolidation in 2019 and has also been used by Ligonier Volunteer Hose Company No. 1 for equipment storage.
Council in September subdivided Oak Alley from the 8,250-square-foot property as a 1925 deed originally included the 15-foot-wide thoroughfare, which will remain under borough ownership.
Along with the old municipal/police building, council also plans to divest 26 acres located off Nature Run Road in Ligonier Township that were originally purchased in 1954 as a potential water impoundment area for the Ligonier reservoir.
Kent Watson Appraisals of Greensburg appraised the landlocked forested tract for $146,000, as Welty confirmed to the Bulletin after the meeting. Mark Ferry Auctioneers is also handling that sale.
Both pieces of real estate will be offered with minimum reserve prices equal to their appraised values.
Council will hold a special meeting at Town Hall at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 29 following the two auctions — which will begin at 1 p.m. — as the borough must approve the sales at an advertised public meeting.
Council briefly discussed its obligations and liabilities if submitted bids do not meet the reserves for the borough building and Laughlintown parcel.
According to Welty, council has the authority to reject offers deemed less than the fair market value, and would have to follow a different, more involved, rebidding process to continue the sales.
On the other hand, does council have the discretion to accept bids that fall short of the reserves?
“I guess what’s where I’m stuck at, because everyone can bet on it, it’s a fair auction. If we don’t get the $265,000 or $270,000, whatever it is, and it comes in at $175,000 or $225,000, we’re still stuck with the building,” councilman Robert Barron said.
Welty cautioned that council could be subject to auditor scrutiny or a potential taxpayer lawsuit if members vote to accept a bid less than the minimum price.
“The problem is that we have auditors, and we have taxpayers. And so, the council members, if you sell something for less than what the fair market value is, you’re opening yourselves up to a couple different things. You’re opening up to have the auditors come in and say, well you sold it for less than what you should have, and therefore you could be surcharged. The council members could be surcharged themselves,” Welty said.
Council also debated what determines the fair market value for a property, whether the appraisal, which could be subjective, or the auction.
“That was my impression of this whole process, was an auction gets you the fair market value. So regardless of the reserve, how we set the reserve, whatever it goes for at an auction is the fair market value,” councilman Nate Sylvester said.
In other business during council’s reorganization meeting, Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas swore in freshmen council members Jordan Frei and Brad Chartier, along with reelected councilman Matt Smith.
Council unanimously appointed Smith as president and councilwoman Mariah Fisher as vice president for 2022.
“A welcome to all the new councilmen on board and it’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it,” Bellas said.
Council also conducted its annual appointments for 2022 during the meeting, unanimously reappointing secretary-treasurer Jan Shaw, solicitor George Welty of Welty & Welty LLP, engineer Ben Faas of The EADS Group, and zoning and code enforcement officer Karl Horman to their positions for 2022.
Shaw will also continue as Ligonier Borough’s Right-to-Know officer and pension plan chief financial officer, plus its delegate for the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs and the Act 32 Tax Collection Committee.
Other reappointments included: Delisi, Keenan & Associates as auditor; David DeRose as zoning hearing board counsel; Robert Bell as vacancy board chairman; Mark Sorice as Uniform Construction Code Appeals Board counsel; Corey Blystone as fire chief; Steve Barron as emergency management coordinator; Greg Sullenberger as assistant emergency management coordinator; Amber Noel as animal control officer, and Merle Musick of American Building Inspection Services and TKL Code Inspection Services as building code inspectors.
Council also reenacted several finance-related ordinances for the new year: Real estate transfer tax (1%), wage tax (0.5%), per capita tax ($5), amusement tax (5%) and LST tax ($52).
Berkheimer Tax Administrator will continue to collect Act 511 and LST taxes, with Pennsylvania Municipal Service Co. handling the Per Capita Tax and Guyasuta Investment Advisors managing the Town Hall and Parks and Recreation Funds.
Officials also approved a list of local depositories for Ligonier Borough funds: BNY Mellon Bank, Commercial Bank, First National Bank, Somerset Trust Co. and Standard Bank.
In addition, council granted the use of the Ligonier Town Hall community room as the borough’s polling place for the May 17 primary and Nov. 8 general elections.
Ligonier Borough Council will host its regular meetings at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month, except during October, as that monthly session will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 11. instead due to Fort Ligonier Days and Columbus Day.
Council adjourned its first meeting of 2022 into an executive session to discuss litigation with no action planned to be taken afterwards. It will meet for its next regular meeting Thursday, Jan. 13.