Questions by several citizens resulted in a discussion between Helper officials, councilman elect Bob Farrell and his lawyer Joane Pappas White at a regular meeting of the towns governing body last Thursday.
"There had been questions about whether Bob could be a councilman with his current residential status and that is why I wanted to see the entire council meet with him on this matter," said Mayor Joe Bonacci on Friday morning. "I was satisfied with what I saw and so was the rest of the council."
The issue swirls around Farrell's construction of a new home outside the Helper city limits. The home has gone up just behind his relocated automobile business, but based on information provided by his lawyer at the meeting, he is still actually renting his old home in Helper and living there.
Some residents had complained that he was living in the new house and with that he had disqualified himself to be a city councilman, a post to which he was elected in November.
But a few months ago, even before he decided to run for council, he had asked the city to annex his property and business into the Helper city limits.
At first everyone thought that would be an easy and certainly an advantageous thing to do. Farrell wanted to be part of Helper and the city could use the tax revenue from his business. The property is also contiguous with the cities boundaries which seems to make it a natural.
But a problem arose. A couple of years ago the legislature changed the way cities can annex property and one of the provisions of that new legislation is that the city must file a comprehensive plan of how it operates when it takes that action.
The state claims it sent out kits to all cities explaining what they would need to do, but no one in the Helper administration had ever seen anything about it.
"The problem is that what we have to do now is a very lengthy process," said Bonacci during the meeting. "It includes multiple public hearings and some other kinds of processes. So that isn't going to happen before January, when we need to swear Bob in. Our main concern is about meeting the statutory residential requirements so that he can legally serve on the council."
White had presented evidence, in the form of cancelled rental checks, to Helper City Attorney Gene Strate before the meeting.
The attorney indicated that she wanted to show Helper officials that Farrell was still residing within the town's boundaries. But White also felt she had a case to make about the city's actions regarding the matter.
"Bob didn't have much choice in moving his business as you know," pointed out White. "With the new overpass, many of us wonder how it will affect business here. The work on this annex problem should have begun a long time ago, but the city still isn't in compliance with state statutes on allowing this. Your city is already providing all the services for his property and it borders it contiguously. He thought the annexation would be easy to get accomplished in the 18 months it took to build his house and put his business in."
But the Helper city fathers appeared to be taken back by the statement about the city not being in compliance with state statute.
"We don't have a full time city planner or engineer to work on these kinds of things," said the mayor. "All those on the planning board are volunteers. Besides, I have never seen a formal request for annexation. Bob just told me that he had bought the property and wanted to be a part of Helper."
At that point, there was some dispute about how things had been handled. Farrell claimed he had been told he couldn't submit anything until the city filed the paperwork on the law.
In addition, White stated that she was ready to submit a petition to the city for the annexation.
"All we want is to do this the right way," said Councilman Bob Welch. "We are all new and there are so many laws to follow. We are limited on manpower and budget. We also don't want to be forced into any annexation we may not want."
The entire council, however, pointed out that they were not against this annexation, in fact they are for it.
Strate pointed out that if a petition is presented it would trigger deadlines that the city can't possibly meet at this time.
The mayor asked Strate to give his opinion on the issue of residency since the annexation issue would have to be worked out over the next few months.
"It is all based on the persons principal residence, where his family lives," said Strate. "Based on the information Joane gave me I think he still has standing here."
The council then decided that the swearing in would take place in early January and that Farrell would become a member of the council.