I’m writing to respond to Felicia Jones’ letter published on April 13. Ms. Jones apparently felt the need to come to the defense of Sandy Sommers. She is unable to reconcile the “facts” contained in Ms. Sommer’s letter with reality, so she simply fabricates her own.
In summary, Felicia Jones resorted to lies in her letter.
In her letter, Ms. Jones states (with self-professed authority, I might add) that, “Everyone knows the mayor owns the building where the (Department of Education) employees are proposed to be housed.” That statement is a lie. Because it was written, it is libelous (i.e. a civil action). There’s no nice way to say it and I don’t choose to be nice about it. For the record, City Place is being developed by Barre City Place LLC, a Vermont-based limited liability company owned by Don Wells of DEW Properties and others. I’ve never held a membership interest in that company, nor have I asked or been asked to hold an ownership interest in that company. End of story.
With regard to the parking, I’ve agreed to lease parking spaces to Barre City Place LLC in order to support the project and provide tenants with a convenient place to park. They asked me. I didn’t ask them. The rent that Barre City Place LLC has offered to pay is slightly less than we are receiving from the current tenant. In that small respect, we’ve gone backwards. In the final analysis, however, it’s a very small price to pay for the benefits associated with hosting hundreds of employees in our downtown. Take it for what you will. It’s simply a fact.
Ms. Jones appears to be fascinated by the number of buildings Karen and I own and have developed (for the record, it’s more than we did 10 years ago, and less than we will 10 years from now, God willing). She states in her letter that, “He’s made a fortune off the city of Barre’s taxpayers and now he’s going to make a fortune off the state of Vermont taxpayers.” Once again, in the absence of supporting facts, Ms. Jones chooses to lie (or commit libel, depending on your point of view).
Real estate development is a relatively simple formula. You search out properties that you believe are under-valued or under-utilized. You purchase the property. You improve the property. Then you lease it. Because you add value, you’re generally assessed more in property taxes than you were when you first purchased the property. If Ms. Jones had actually taken the time to do the research (which is all contained in the land records), she would have come to the conclusion that, as developers, we generally wind up paying more in property taxes than the previous owners. In some cases, over 100 percent more. Perhaps Ms. Jones doesn’t have the confidence or ability to stake a claim and improve a community or property, but she shouldn’t cast dispersions on those who do. Like I said in my first mayoral debate eight years ago, I’m proud of my record as a developer. Over the years, our development companies have created jobs, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes, supported local businesses, donated to worthy causes and built value. I’m not aware that Ms. Jones or Ms. Sommers can make any such claim. Perhaps that’s the real source of their frustration.
Turning attention appropriately back to City Place, the facts that Ms. Jones and Ms. Sommers have attempted to skew are all contained in the administration’s complete report to the Legislature. Development costs, lease rates, the DMV’s need for additional space and the inefficiencies associated with multiple DOE locations were all presented, reviewed and considered. While Ms. Sommers and Ms. Jones may not agree with the conclusion, they have yet to present any truthful or factual argument that supports their position. Like I said in my original letter, the construction and renovation plans presented by the administration and endorsed by the Legislature are fiscally sound and defensible, as long as we can count on critics to debate us on the facts. In the cases of Ms. Sommers and Ms. Jones, that hasn’t happened.
Thomas J. Lauzon of Barre is the city’s mayor.
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