There’s no question that the Town of Delaware town barn, in order to prevent its contents from flowing downstream, needs to move. It now sits on a parcel of land on Route 17B in the Village of Hortonville where the Joe Brook and the Callicoon Creek meet up on their route to the Delaware River. They are peaceful streams, until they flood.
Highway superintendant Bill Eschenberg says he’s watched taxpayer money, in the form of town equipment, float from the barn downstream during floods. His crews do what they can to save everything, but he worries this decades-old battle with Mother Nature will eventually lead to tragedy.
At the town board meeting on January 16, nothing on the agenda attracted more attention than supervisor Ed Sykes’ report that the town is close to closing on a deal to obtain property and begin a new chapter in the operations of the highway department. “The land purchase is moving along. We’re in contract. We’ve had it surveyed and we’re moving along with the other steps.” One of those steps, clearly, is paying for the property.
It’s a 3.8-acre parcel of land along Route 17B in the town of Hortonville, and the going rate is $100,000, roughly $26,300 per acre. The consensus among residents at the meeting was that this is a lot of money. Sykes said the value lies in the location: it’s in the town, it has good drainage, it’s not likely to flood, and it is located in a spot where trucks can enter the road safely.
Resident and former fire chief John Duffy has his own solution to the situation. “That’s ludicrous. I have 20 acres I’ll sell you, if that’s the going rate. It’s got a house there to store all your stuff in.” He said with the heavy burden already placed on taxpayers from local, school and federal taxes, spending $100,000 for less than four acres is too much for people to accept. “You’re driving people out of this town spending all this money. How can you justify it?”
Sykes recounted some of the history. “Fifteen years ago there were negotiations for that specific property (for the same purpose). The previous town board and supervisor had negotiated a price and the price was much too high, nearly twice that.” He said he and Eschenberg picked through properties in the town for six months. They found some that could work but were not for sale. Gerald Euker, a 30-year real estate veteran, said the town is prudent in their pursuit. “$30,000 an acre for a piece of good commercial property on a state highway is not an exorbitant price. In fact, I think it’s a deal.”
According to town records, in 2005 a 2.95-acre piece of commercial land on Route 52 outside of Jeffersonville sold for $325,000, roughly $110,000 per acre. After flooding in 2006, the same property is back on the market for $295,000, an average of $100,000 per acre.
The town is negotiating directly with Coon Rock, the hunting club that owns property. The money will come from reserves the town has accumulated over the past 15 years, according to Sykes, which amounts to about $400,000 to be used to cover the purchase of the property.
But Duffy worries about the next step. “If you’re spending that kind of money just for the property, what are you spending for a building?” No amount was given, but Sykes did say the town is pursuing grants for that purpose.