BATH, Maine — The Bath City Council on Wednesday will hold a workshop to discuss the sale of the former Bath Memorial Hospital building. Councilors are slated to address allegations by some residents about the price and process of selling what City Manager Bill Giroux said Monday was “a problem property from the beginning.”
On May 31, the city closed on the sale of the building that now houses the MidCoast Center for Higher Education, Providence Service Corp. of Maine and the Midcoast Medical Practice. Although the property is assessed at $6.5 million, Bob Smith of Phippsburg paid $799,000.
Giroux said Monday that the building only recently began to turn a profit for the city, and that he had been notified that “most of the major tenants there were going to be leaving.”
In March, Providence Service Corp. of Maine, which operates a school for children with autism and other developmental disabilities, announced that it would relocate to Brunswick Landing, the former U.S. Navy air base.
Bath residents Larry Scott and Michael Wischkaemper contacted Giroux and then city councilors, objecting to the sale.
Scott, who also was interested in purchasing the property, said Monday that, as a real estate investor, he estimates the building is worth $1 million-$2 million, and that selling the building for $799,000 was “fiscally irresponsible.”
Giroux said that the building would never have fetched the assessed value, which resulted from a revaluation a half-dozen years old.
“We had as a goal all along to make it profitable so we could sell it,” he said. “We worked hard to make it profitable. We were concerned that we were looking at a large vacancy rate in the coming year. We felt we were acting in the city’s best interest to reduce the burden on taxpayers.”
But Scott — who in November ran unsuccessfully against City Councilor Leverett “Tink” Mitchell for the Ward 7 council seat — and Wischkaemper said price is only one of their concerns. The council did not agree in public session to list the property before placing it on the market, Scott said, and the city never listed it on the multiple listing service, which could have elicited additional offers.
City Councilor David Sinclair wrote in a June 12 email to Wischkaemper — provided by Wischkaemper to the Bangor Daily News — that “to the best of my recollection, informal approval was given verbally at a public budget hearing, during the dates of April 8-10, based on profit/loss information, and pricing guidance information, both provided by the city manager.”
The council approved the sale on April 17 — Giroux said the vote “was properly noticed” — and the sale closed on May 31.
According to a May 29 letter to Wischkaemper, city solicitor Roger Therriault wrote that no formal action by the council was required to list the building, because the council would have to approve any sale and sale price.
Therriault wrote that the “range” for the asking price was developed by Realtor Don Spann and city assessor Paul Mateosian, and that the final listing price was “at the top of that range.”
Giroux confirmed that the property was not listed on the multiple listing service between the time the offer was made and the council action — at the request of Smith. Wischkaemper said that was irresponsible because no additional offers could be made during that time.
Wishkaemper and Scott said they’re not satisfied with the answers they’ve received and called for more transparency in future sales.
“Five and a half acres of prime real estate in Bath — the real estate itself has got to be worth $800,000,” Wischkaemper said. “It doesn’t make any sense … what seems to have happened is that the City Council was given advice by the city manager and pulled out their approved rubber stamps and banged on the table without giving any thought to whether the advice they were given was good or not, and whether the city of Bath was well-served by it.”
Sinclair and Council Chairman Bernard Wyman both said Monday that they’re comfortable with the sale price and the process. But Sinclair said that when questions about the sale were first raised, he asked Wyman to delay it until those questions were answered, but that didn’t happen.
Wyman said he didn’t remember Sinclair asking for a delay.
Sinclair said he hopes Wednesday’s workshop will provide “greater public confidence in the process that was followed and the decision that was made. At the very least, answers to the questions should be provided to the folks that asked them, and honestly, those answers should have been provided a long time ago.”