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Lewis County Legislature takes a step toward regaining its honor

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With a new Lewis County Legislature in place for a month, there is some reason to be quietly optimistic that many of the shenanigans of past years may come to an end.

As an example, the new board voted Thursday night to do the right thing, and follow through on a contingent purchase agreement for Lowville Lanes. For those who may have forgotten, the board voted in late October to make a purchase offer on the property, with the goal of converting it to county office space, then turned around a week later and rescinded the offer after the contract was signed, sealed and delivered.

It was not a triumph of governance.

The new board, facing a lawsuit for failure to honor a contract, decided to go back to the contract and fulfill its terms. This is not a commitment on the part of the Legislature to buy the building; contingencies in the original contract include a satisfactory appraisal, an environmental assessment of the property and an engineering report that shows the building could reasonably be converted to office use. Only then would a sale be consummated.

The resolution passed Thursday will start the process. An appraisal will be ordered, as will engineering studies of the building and any environmental deficits that may hinder the county’s use of the property.

This is a good thing for several reasons. It will allow the county to find out if Lowville Lanes is a reasonable purchase at the $1 million sale price, and whether the building is actually suited for conversion to offices.

More importantly, it says to the citizens of Lewis County that its elected county government can be counted on to honor its commitments, to live up to its word.

There is a rumor dashing about the county that says this move is simply to get rid of the lawsuit, that the legislators are convinced they can cook either the appraisal or the engineering report in order to give them a legal way out of the contract.

At least three legislators have told the Times this simply isn’t so; they say if the studies are favorable to the purchase, the county will honor its word. I’m ready to believe that is the truth, despite the rumors.

After all, if the appraisal says the price is right and the engineering reports say the property meets the needs for office space, the county will be getting its badly needed office space at a price drastically lower than the $11 million it was ready to spend to build an ugly new shoebox on Outer Stowe Street.

Compared with the failed new office building proposal, the bowling alley would appear to have a lot going for it. It is easy to get to, it has adequate parking, it is on a state highway and it has easier access to utilities. With two acres, it’s hard to believe there is not room for expansion should the need arise. And if the county buys it for $1 million and puts $1 million into the renovations (and that could be way high), it still saves taxpayers $9 million from the failed proposal.

The decision to return to the contract was a good one. It will provide the county with an honest look at the site to see if it is a good spot for new offices. And it will restore the public’s faith in the Legislature, a faith that has been badly eroded over the past three or four years. And the value of that is immeasurable.

Perry White is city editor of the Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net

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