By Susan Tebben
Officials in Canfield say had it been up to them, Red Gate Farm never would have been purchased.
Ten years after a previous group of council members bought the farm at U.S. Route 62 and Leffingwell Road for $2.3 million, the property is still a line item on the budget, and council members are looking for better ways to pay the debt.
“We have tried to get the property sold over the years,” said Councilman Andy Skrobola. “But it is property minus city water and city sanitary systems, so it’s a hard sell.”
The current council members and city Manager Joe Warino said they still haven’t figured out why the property was purchased at an auction from the estate of Anne Kilcawley Christman.
Even when the 290 acres were purchased, council said it had no long-term plans for the farm, according to Vindicator files.
“There are a lot of rumors why it was bought, but we were not ever given a reason,” Skrobola said. “Now it’s up to us to do something. Unfortunately, other than attempting to subdivide, which would take a lot of work and money, there’s not much else we can do.”
Christman was the only child of William Kilcawley, a philanthropist and secretary-treasurer of Standard Slag Co., who bought the farm in 1945 and lived there until his death in 1958. Christman died in 2002.
Former Mayor Lee Frey told The Vindicator in 2003 the city wanted to make money off the land to protect itself from future financial problems. Attempts to contact former council members involved in the decision to buy Red Gate were unsuccessful.
The city took out a $1.3 million loan to buy the farm and property. The rest of the $2.3 million was paid for through land acquisition and capital-improvements funds.
But the city had no plan to amortize — decrease the debt — in any time period, Skrobola said. So, two years ago, the city refinanced the loan with an amortization schedule. The loan now is under $1 million, but with about four years to go.
The Red Gate debt- retirement fund shows a debt-service balance of $132,600 on principal for the farm and $32,600 for interest in the 2013 budget. For maintenance of rental property and the use of the barn for road-department equipment and salt, the Red Gate operating fund has a budgeted balance of $23,750.
The property makes about a $50,000 profit with leases there for farming and gas wells, Warino said. But the three active gas wells are not producing much, he said.
“We are hoping that something might come of the Marcellus and Utica shale out there, but we aren’t sure,” Warino said.
The mineral rights for the land are tied to the three gas wells on the property.
The city is always contemplating new ways to pay off the debt.
“We’re always receptive to anyone who would want to consider the property,” Skrobola said. “We’re doing what we can for now.”