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Despite Comptroller Criticism, Westfield Officials Did It Right

Early last week, the state Comptroller’s Office criticized the town of Westfield for spending too much buying the 48,000-square-foot Welch’s Building.

Perhaps the Comptroller’s Office should have waited until the building was sold before levying criticism. A few days after the comptroller’s audit was released publicly, Westfield Town Board members sold the building to Landmark Development Consortium LLC of Buffalo for $350,000.

The town purchased the property in 2014 for $355,000, and with it 14 total acres of land, in an attempt to preserve the building once considered the cornerstone of the Westfield business district.

“The opportunity came up for us to save the building,” Martha Bills, town supervisor, told The Post-Journal of the Welch’s property, constructed in 1910 and used as the company’s headquarters until the mid-1980s. “We determined that the cost of demolishing the building was more than what we paid for. … We were trying to be proactive and we were hoping to prevent what happened (with the Portage Inn).”

The audit criticized the board for spending $355,000 on a building with an estimated market value of $243,000 while also suggesting the town use a thorough process when purchasing property to ensure the best price is obtained; obtain one or more independent appraisals on property the town plans to buy and review long-term financial impacts before making a decision.

In the end, the town did well for itself. Not only did the real estate deal end up in only a $5,000 difference between the purchase price and the eventual sale price, but the town netted $125,000 in rent from the building during five years of town ownership, retained 12 acres of the land worth between $144,000 and $180,000, for public use that will include a 1.25 mile multi-use trail and preserved a building that may well have been demolished otherwise.

We’re not sure what piqued the comptroller’s interest in the town’s building purchase, but it probably would have been better to wait until all of the evidence was in before criticizing the town. In the end, Westfield officials got it right.

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