Townsend Mayor Jermaine Hatton says the time has come for the town to seriously consider acquiring a town hall it actually owns.

Townsend Mayor Jermaine Hatton says the time has come for the town to seriously consider acquiring a town hall it actually owns.

“We don’t own the building we’re in now,” he said of the former slaughterhouse that town government has occupied for decades. “And right now, we can’t even hold town meetings in that building because if we get more than four or five visitors, we’re sitting on top of each other.”

But, according to Hatton, the more immediate issue is the current municipal building at 661 South St. could soon be sold as part of a residential development deal.

That’s because the property is part of a 96-acre farm owned by Townsend resident Charlie Carter and his family since the 1950s that is currently on the market

About 20 years ago, Carter struck a gentleman’s agreement with former mayor Charlie Murray that allowed the town to use the building at no cost.

Since then, the town has used the building to house its three-person administrative staff, while holding its monthly meetings at the Townsend Fire Company.

But with the farm currently up for sale, that arrangement could change at any time, Hatton said.

“The housing market is picking back up and there have been inquiries about this property,” he told town council during its Oct. 23 workshop meeting at town hall. “I spoke to the Carter family about purchasing this section of land but got shot down because if the farm is sold, they might need to tear this building down and use the land for a right-of-way.”

Carter, meanwhile, said not only is there no impending land deal, but he wouldn’t include the South Street building even if one were offered.

“The deal I struck [with Murray] said that the building would go to the town if [the farm] were sold, and the only reason it wouldn’t would be if the mayor came to me and said so-and-so is going to buy a place and build a new town hall,” he said. “But we’ve never advertised the farm and to me the market is not that good right now, unless someone wanted to get a contract signed and put in a drawer for a couple of years, but we’re not interested in that.”

Regardless, Hatton said anything could happen with the current town hall because the town has no ownership of the building or even a binding legal agreement for its long-term use.

Last week, town council unanimously authorized him to begin negotiations with prospective sellers who own suitable vacant property along Townsend’s Main Street.

“The issue is that there are not a lot of places that would work because we have certain requirements we have to meet in terms of parking and handicap-accessibility,” Hatton said. “But we want to put all of our options on the table and see what’s available.”

One of those options  could include constructing a brand new building in the Townsend Municipal Park off of Edgar Street.

But, Hatton said, that would likely end up costing more than the town currently has in its $400,000 building fund, which is made up of revenue from permits and hook-up fees collected during the housing boom.

“In the past, the town had renderings drawn up for a new town hall in the park, but the park also doesn’t have electric, water or sewer service, so the price tag on building new and extending those services might be cost prohibitive,” he said. “But given the current situation, we could be forced to move at any time and we need to be prepared in case that happens.”