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Public Meeting In Works On Land Plan

Funding Sought For Preservation Of 420 Acres Owned By School

By DIANE STRUZZI
Courant Staff Writer

September 2 2006

SIMSBURY -- On Tuesday, the board of selectmen is expected to schedule a public meeting to discuss the acquisition of 420 acres owned by the Ethel Walker School and approve the ballot question for the November election.

Tuesday's meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the youth room, on the lower-level of Eno Memorial Hall on Hopmeadow Street.

The board of selectmen is considering 7 p.m. Oct. 17, at Simsbury High School, as the date and time for the special public meeting about the land preservation effort, said Brandon Robertson, director of administrative services.

Earlier this week, the boards of selectmen and finance approved a proposal that calls for the acquisition and financing to be spread over several years.

The first part of the proposal calls for the town to appropriate $7 million - issuing $5 million from bonds and taking $2 million from the town's reserves - to purchase about 330 acres of property. Voters will consider that issue in November.

The second part of the proposal calls for the town to set aside $1 million from its reserves on the March 2007 closing date. Residents will vote on whether to set aside that funding at the October public meeting.

The $1 million will act as a deposit for an additional 91 acres, would give the town a conservation easement for the next five years and set a purchase price at $3.1 million. In April 2012, the town would have three options: It could buy all of the property for $3.1 million, it could buy half the property for $2 million and receive an additional two years to purchase the rest of the land, or it could choose not to purchase the property and lose its $1 million deposit.

If the town decided to purchase the land, town officials would have to approve the $3.1 million appropriation at that time.

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit conservation organization, is committed to raising about $2.75 million toward the acquisition. The preservation effort has already generated about $775,000 in pledges, an official at the trust said this week.

Finance Director Kevin Kane said the town has a surplus of about $8.6 million - about 11 percent of the town's budget of nearly $78 million.

The surplus would probably dip to below 7 percent with the project. But Kane said the drop is within his comfort range.

"I feel the town will get back up there," he said.

Contact Diane Struzzi at dstruzzi@courant.com.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant