2014-03-21 / Front Page

New rules for property sales likely on horizon

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Following a March 10 workshop and a March 17 first ordinance reading, the South Portland City Council is on track to eliminate rules requiring it to use a public bid process when selling city-owned property. A public hearing and final action on the change is scheduled for the Monday, April 7 council meeting.

If adopted, the new ordinance would allow the council to put public property out to auction, employ a brokerage firm, or negotiate a private sale, in addition to the current rules, which only allow for sealed bids, or a solicitation of sealed proposals. The new ordinance language says the council may consider factors “such as price, annual property tax generation, proposed land use, economic benefit, job creation, environmental benefit or detriment, historical or architectural benefits, community need, or neighborhood benefits,” when choosing to forego the bid process. The council also would retain the right to set “reasonable conditions” on the future use of any property it sells.

However, the proposal does stipulate “the council shall indicate the factors it will consider for each property at the time the method of sale is determined.”

“We’ve had some properties in the past that have been somewhat problematic, or maybe we didn’t get the best price we could have,” said City Manager Jim Gailey. “We feel this could mitigate the problem and provide for a better process in the future.”

“We all know the city of South Portland is in the real estate business,” said Councilor Tom Blake. “We sell, we buy, we trade. It’s important that we give the city council the maximum amount of flexibility in dealing with our properties.”

However, some councilors suggested that flexibility could lead to a lack of transparency, especially given that state law allows the council to enter executive session to negotiate real estate deals, “only if premature disclosure of the information would prejudice the competitive or bargaining position” of the city.

“What’s important to me is that when we stipulate a method of sale or conditions, that it is done in a public forum,” said Councilor Patti Smith.

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