New Milford councilman explains property bid
NEW MILFORD — A Town Councilman plans to ask the ethics commission to determine if his bid on a town-owned property violates the ethics code, and he maintains he did not receive an advantage.
Councilman Frank Wargo, a Democrat, sits on a subcommittee that encouraged the town to sell 25 Church St., a building that once housed the art commission’s Gallery 25. He then voted in favor of selling the building earlier this year.
Although residents criticized Wargo’s actions in a community Facebook group last week, no one on council or in the audience mentioned it at the most recent council meeting.
“It was brought to my attention that it was a conflict, but I don’t see how because I didn’t get any advantage over others,” Wargo said during the public comment portion of last week’s meeting.
On Monday, Councilman Tom Esposito requested Wargo’s “apparent conflict of interest” be added to the Town Council’s Oct. 23 meeting agenda.
At a recent Purchasing Authority meeting, Wargo was the lone bidder for the Church Street property. 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, according to meeting minutes.
Wargo said the request for bids was issued publicly and he responded after the first round only returned an option to tear down the building for $10,000 or build a parking lot. He said he wanted to fix up the building so it could be used for development, and it could be a good site for a catering company looking to come to town.
“I really wanted to get the building up to shape so it could get on the tax rolls again,” he said.
According to the purchasing authority minutes, Mayor David 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 a Facebook post, Gronbach said Wargo’s offer was too low and the bid might have to be rejected on procedural grounds because of Wargo’s votes on the property as a councilman.
The town bought the building in 2001 for $255,000, and it was appraised at $373,600 in 2015, according to town records.
Wargo said he was trying to help the town and did not realize he was doing anything wrong. He said the price seemed adequate, especially because he would have to invest $50,000 to $100,000 in repairs.
“I really thought I was doing a good deed,” he said.