The Delaware Township Municipal Utility Authority (DTMUA) has responded to the Township Committee’s request that the DTMUA continue to negotiate with the Hannans to avoid the use of eminent domain. The authority wants one-eigth of an acre of the Hannans’ land bordering the sewer treatment plant. The DTMUA responded with a letter on July 8 to the Township Committee.
The decision to respond with a letter was made at the regular July 7 meeting of the DTMUA and signed by all DTMUA members. During the meeting, DTMUA Chairman Bill Schroeher said negotiations would be done between a member of the DTMUA and its attorney and Mr. Hannan and his lawyer. Mr. Schroeher recommended that the Township Committee’s attorney facilitate and mediate the negotiations however, this was not stated in the letter.
The letter from the DTMUA acknowledges that there are two issues: the value of the land in question, and compensation for the use of the land in prior years by the DTMUA. Although the letter asks that these two issues be reviewed separately, the DTMUA treats the Hannans’ recent request of $30,400 purely as an estimate of land value. Nevertheless, the DTMUA stated its “willingness to negotiate a reasonable rental fee to compensate the Hannans for the use of their property.”
The DTMUA states that its approach for determining the compensation for use of the land “is to use the average value of the property over a period to be negotiated, providing the Hannans an annual rental equivalent to a U.S. Treasury Interest on that average value.” The letter states that the rental value “has to be in line with the value of the property.” In addition, the DTMUA feels that “the incidental use of the property without full privileges of a lessee” need to be kept in mind. Nowhere in the letter to the Township Committeee was any consideration for allegations of the trees that were cut down by the DTMUA on the property in question.
As to the suggestion by the Township Committee that the DTMUA estimate the legal costs that might be born by the DTMUA from any potential litigation by the Hannans, the DTMUA feels that it needs more information before it could provide this estimate. Before compling with this request the DTMUA wants to decide, whether in its opinion, the Hannans have a legitimate case to make. According to the letter, “for the DTMUA to take this into consideration, it needs to obtain, from the Hannans, their certified appraisal of the property to determine if they (Hannans) have a case to make before the Condemnation Commissioners.”
The DTMUA believes it must negotiate in good faith, but must also keep its customers’ best interest in mind. To accomplish this, the DTMUA will survey its customers for input regarding how the DTMUA should approach the negotiations. A survey or poll will be taken in the quarterly billing, due out shortly. While this survey will reach the users in Sergeantsville, it will not find its way to the broader group of township taxpayers who are also “customers” by virtue of the sewer connections to the school, town hall and firehouse.
Finally, it is clear from the letter that the DTMUA’s willingness to sweeten its offer only goes so far: “If the Committee wishes to pay additional compensation to the Hannans it will have to be with Township, not DTMUA monies as we have major expenditures ahead of us in the permitting process.”