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Judgment could lead to change in city services

Marlborough – A court judgment against the city of Marlborough could change the way it handles public projects, and could lead to residents paying for improvements that aff ect them.

At the Dec. 11 meeting of the Finance Committee, councilors voted to make a transfer to help pay a judgment against the city of more than $200,000.

Councilors suggested it might be possible to bill the victors in that lawsuit, and reclaim some of the money the city is paying out to them.

Assistant City Solicitor Cynthia Panagore Griffin told councilors the judgment arises from a 1997 lawsuit, when residents of Beaman Lane sued the city for trespassing on their property and removing a number of trees.

At the time, the city rushed through an eminent domain plan that was judged unlawful, Panagore Griffin said.

The courts awarded damages for trespassing and for passing the eminent domain. Triple damages were awarded against the city for taking the trees, Panagore Griffin said.

The city appealed the judgments against it, and the deadline for any final appeal ran out in November 2007.

City Comptroller Tom Abel told councilors the judgment will cost the city $231,236, with interest building every day. The money will come from several accounts, and Mayor Nancy Stevens asked the committee to authorize one more transfer to make up the balance.

"We need another $137,467 to settle the lawsuit," Stevens told the councilors.

Councilors were told the transfer would be the final step in the lawsuit.

But Council President Arthur Vigeant, who was sitting in on the meeting, suggested a novel way to deal with the problem of the city losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. He suggested billing the plaintiff s for the work done on Beaman Lane.

"We are allowed to pass on the costs of the infrastructure improvements to those people who benefited from them," Vigeant told councilors. "I don't know if we can reverse this and pass it right back to them."

Vigeant said this practice is called "betterment" and has not been used before in Marlborough.

"We've never dealt with it in the city of Marlborough," he said, but it could be done.

City officials were generally supportive of the idea.

"I think the betterment idea is something we should do in general," Ward 2 Councilor Paul Ferro said.

But city officials said applying the practice of betterment to this case could be difficult, because it could appear to unfairly target one group.

"Do you run into another lawsuit because you go after one section and not the rest of the city?" Abel asked.

The councilors said it is best to put the lawsuit to rest and then consider whether betterment would be a good general practice to institute for the city.

"We could close the books on this and open another chapter," Ward 4 Councilor Peter Juaire said.

"What we might want to do with it after the fact is up to us," At-large Councilor Steven Levy said.

The councilors voted, 4-0, to approve the transfer. They also directed the city's Legal Department to look into the idea of betterment.

The City Council subsequently took up the transfer at its Dec. 17 meeting. Ossing reported the deliberations of the Finance Committee, and the council voted to approve the transfer.

Abel said it is likely the payments would not occur until January or February, 2008.

Councilors expect to hear from the administration on the details of the betterment concept in 2008.

Short URL: http://www.communityadvocate.com/?p=1463

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