Lease status for city farmland to be determined

(Posted Feb. 12, 2024)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The lease status for farmland owned by the city of London is up in the air.

On Feb. 1, city council considered legislation that would authorize the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to advertise for bids and enter into a contract to lease the approximately 160 acres of farmland it owns adjacent to the city sanitation department at the end of Jenkinson Avenue.

Typically, BPU leases the land to farmers for three years at a time. This time around, BPU is looking to lease the land for two years. The most recent lease expired in December. Last year, it generated $43,543 in revenue for the city.

BPU must advertise for bids for the lease for five weeks before entering into a contract. Because potential renters need time to prepare for the upcoming planting season, the city placed an emergency clause on the current resolution. Rex Castle, London’s safety-service director, explained that the emergency clause would allow council to bypass the three-reading rule, vote on the legislation, and have it go into effect immediately, allowing the five-week advertising period to start as soon as possible. Without the clause, the legislation would have to be read at three council meetings then wait 30 days to go into effect if passed, after which the five-week advertising period would start–putting the bid opening sometime around mid- to late-May.

Council member Michael Norman moved that the emergency wording be removed from the legislation. Council member Brent McDaniels seconded it.

“This deadline should not have been a surprise,” Norman said, adding that he didn’t see how missing a deadline for a rental agreement was an urgent public health or safety issue.

“It’s unfortunate that this was brought late. It wasn’t our intent,” Castle said. “Normally, it’s advertised for two weeks. We would have had more leeway and wouldn’t have to do this in such a big hurry. But because we have to advertise for five weeks, it’s putting us behind the eight-ball.”

Council member Shannon Treynor commented that the five-week requirement has been in effect since 2013. Castle said the city has historically done two weeks, but Jennifer Hitt, the city’s law director, caught the five-week rule this time.

Norman’s motion to remove the emergency wording from the resolution failed 2-5. Norman and McDaniels cast the “yes” votes. Treynor, Greg Eades, Rich Hays, Andy Hitt, and John Stahl voted “no.” The emergency wording stayed on the legislation.

Andy Hitt then motioned to suspend the three-reading rule; Stahl seconded. Hitt, Hays, Stahl, and Treynor voted “yes.” Eades, McDaniels, and Norman voted “no.” While the “yes” votes outnumbered the “no” votes 4-3, the motioned failed. An affirmative three-fourths vote is required to suspend the rules.

As a result, the legislation will be up for a second reading at council’s next meeting on Feb. 15. At that time, council can once again consider suspending the rules.

Les Geyman, sanitation superintendent, said he knows of at least two farmers who are interested in leasing the land.

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