New Milford councilman criticized for making bid on town property

NEW MILFORD — A council member who served on a committee studying the sale of town properties is under fire after submitting a bid to buy one of them at a fraction of its appraised value.

Frank Wargo, a Democrat, sits on the four-member Surplus Properties Subcommittee, which recommended the sale of several town properties, including the two-story building at 25 Church St. that once housed the Art Commission’s Gallery 25.

When the Purchasing Authority met last Thursday, Wargo was the lone bidder, according to the authority’s minutes. He offered $50,000 for the building and put down a $1,000 deposit, saying he intended to renovate the building’s storefront and two upstairs apartments.

The town bought the building in 2001 for $255,000, and it was appraised at $373,600 in 2015, town tax records show.

Residents expressed shock at the apparent conflict of interest on a community Facebook page.

“Why wouldn't this be marketed with a Realtor for fair market value?” one commenter asked. “Where is the large sign that it is going up for public auction so that there is fair notice? Something does not sound right.”

“Conflict of interest,” another wrote. “If he wanted to buy, he should have excused himself from the selling process.”

Wargo did not respond to repeated calls for comment Monday.

Mayor David Gronbach also did not respond to phone calls seeking comment, but in a separate Facebook post, he contended that Wargo bid on the property only after an earlier request for bids was met with responses that did not call for developing the property.

“In the first round, the only responses were to knock the building down for $10,000 and to purchase a small piece for parking spaces for a couple thousand,” the mayor wrote. “When he saw no other interest in the building, Mr. Wargo submitted his proposal.”

According to the purchasing authority minutes, Gronbach and Finance Director W. Lee Palmer sent Wargo’s bid to the town planner for review, intending to address it at the authority’s next meeting and to “discuss the next steps if the offer, after review, is deemed acceptable.”

But in his Facebook post, Gronbach said Wargo’s offer is not sufficient, and the bid might have to be rejected on procedural grounds.

“I believe that the $50,000 offer is too low,” he wrote. “While Mr. Wargo’s desire to restore this property to productivity is commendable, his prior votes as a councilman may preclude his offer to purchase.”

“No councilman should vote on any property in which they have, or may have, a potential financial interest,” Gronbach wrote. “I will make that clear to everyone, whether it is this property or other projects that involve the town.”; 203-731-3411; @bglytton