DUANESBURG — The town's plan to purchase a former church in order to convert it into a new Town Hall is being disputed.
The Town Board voted in October to purchase the former Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall at 2240 Western Turnpike for $250,000, but a group of residents, including former town Supervisor William Park, has filed a petition for a public referendum on the matter.
Town Supervisor Roger Tidball, however, said the petition isn't valid because it was filed one day past the 30-day deadline for filing a referendum petition.
"The town will be taking it to court to get it dismissed," Tidball said.
Retired dairy farmer Richard Hoffman, a long-time resident who was one of the petition organizers, said he's been served papers to appear in state Supreme Court in Schenectady on Dec. 11.
"I'm not done with this. I'll fight it tooth and nail," he said Wednesday.
The Town Board voted Oct. 20 to sign a contract to purchase the former church, subject to permissive referendum — meaning a petition could force the public vote. The petition, which included 153 signatures — 19 more than the minimum needed — was filed Nov. 22. In seeking the referendum, opponents noted there is no money for the purchase included in the recently adopted 2018 town budget.
Tidball said the town has been looking for a location to build a new town hall for about a year and a half, and in that time, some proposed land purchases have fallen through. Then the Jehovah's Witnesses building, built in the 1990s, became available.
"The cost is good, so we thought we'd better jump on it," Tidball said. "We've totally done everything the way we're supposed to, and the attorney has approved it."
While the town contends that the petition was filed too late, Hoffman said the organizers were aware of the deadline, but believe they made it with two or three days to spare.
"I've been talked to a few people involved in commercial remodeling, and they thought it would take $250,000 to bring it up to code," he said. "It's not going to be $250,000 (to buy the building), it's going to be $400,000 to $500,000. Let the people of the town vote on that."
The former church comprises about 4,000 square feet of space, roughly twice the size of the current town hall, which is also located on Western Turnpike, about 4 miles west of the church.
"Our courtroom, which is also where the Town Board meets, is very small," Tidball said. "We have people waiting outside, and if we have a meeting where we're expecting more than about 40 or 50, we have to move it. That's really the main problem."
The church building would require some renovations, but Tidball doesn't believe they would be an expensive as opponents think, since the building is modern. He believes the renovations would cost around $100,000. The town will seek grant money, he said, but is likely to borrow the town's portion of funding for the purchase and renovations to protect its reserves.
The supervisor said the town hopes to hold a public forum on its plans for the building just after the first of the year.
"This will solve a lot of our issues for future expansion," Tidball said.