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New Helper property isn't much to look at, but the price is right

A once-living cottonwood is part of the landscape motif.

By By JOHN SERFUSTINI Sun Advocate associate editor

East of the railroad tracks in Helper, Oak and Ash streets end at a four-foot berm that looks a lot like a dike. On the other side of that berm, inaccessible by passenger car, is a .98 acre lot that Helper City has decided to accept from the owners, who just want to be rid of it.

While getting a piece of land that is appraised at $23,800 may seem like a good deal, it took a rare vote by Helper Mayor Dean Armstrong to break the tie on a deadlocked motion to accept the deal at last Thursday's city council meeting.

Half the councilmen present insisted the lot is worse than useless, while the other two were not overly excited to get it. It is not a high-stakes proposition. The city's authorized take on annual property tax is $72, which would be forgone under municipal ownership.

The so-called Sloan property has been an agenda item for a while on the council, ever since John and Leslie Sloan decided they weren't ever going to use it or sell it and offered to transfer it to the city. Jean Boyack, vice chair of the city's planning commission, advised the council that the offered tract does abut some other land the city owns.

But while it may be continguous on a two-dimensional map, the Sloan property is offset somewhat in the third dimension. It's downhill from the other property. "It's a hole," commented councilman Gary Harwood. He was concerned about potential liability and flooding if the city took over the lot. When the mayor dissented that it was not a hole, Harwood changed his definition. "All right, then. It's a deep depression in the earth," he stated.

"It's still a hole," contended councilman Kirk Mascaro a bit later.

Armstrong, on the other hand, recognized that the Sloan property is part of a drainage pattern but said that the city has already endured some 100-year storms without any catastrophes there. It was his philosophy that it is better to have it than not to have it, even if it isn't worth much.

This did not provoke any impassioned speeches from the two councilmen who tended to agree with Armstrong. "I'm ambivalent about the whole thing," said Robert Bradley. Chris Pugliese made the motion to accept the property, Bradley seconded and the vote turned out to be a tie.

So the mayor, for the first time in his tenure, was able cast a vote.

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