By Vera OlinskiSUSSEX — The Sussex Borough Council appointed a new attorney to oversee borough's interests in the Department of Transportation's court case against the Sussex Inn at its Nov. 6 meeting by one vote.
Mayor Jonathan Rose broke the tie, appointing Thomas P. Fischer of the firm Broscious, Fischer & Zaiter as the borough's special review counsel for the case.
Rose said the borough discovered about a month ago borough attorney John Ursin had represented the Sussex Inn during negotiations of the DOT and Sussex Inn Condemnation in 2012. Subsequently, Ursin represented the borough through filing the paperwork of a municipal lien against Sussex Inn for not paying water, sewer, and back taxes.
In order to avoid perceived conflicts of interest, the borough will spend an extra $150 per hour to Fischer.
Ursin further clarified his work with the Sussex Inn during negotiations between the DOT saying there were no court appearances or motions, only phone calls. Later, the lien was technically filed by the Tax Collector against the Sussex Inn.
Fischer will provide a second opinion because the situation raised questions.
"I think that it is important for the Borough Council to have all of the information," said Ursin, who will continue to represent the town in other matters.
During the meeting, Councilman Sal Lagattuta said that Fischer, of Washington Township, was selected as special-review counsel because he has no connections with Sussex County, no biases, is a capable attorney experienced in municipal law. He also cost the least from the four different submissions. Fischer only will complete a paper review and give his opinion.
Councilwoman Linda Masson said she has reservations and she didn’t “think the taxpayers should pay for the situation because of Mr. Ursin’s conflicts.”
Status of DOT vs. Sussex InnUrsin reported earlier in the meeting that the judge will make a decision during a Dec. 6 hearing to distribute money regarding the DOT vs. Sussex Inn. The adjournment will be final, and no further hearings will be allowed. Oral arguments will be scheduled regarding the liens on back water, sewer and tax charges.
The Dec. 6 hearing also will determine the pecking order for all creditors of a potential $515,000, which will be paid to Sussex Inn from the DOT as part of a fair-market value for the land in condemnation. Sussex Borough is included in the list of creditors.
The council was concerned about the priority of payment with other parties in the DOT case vs. Sussex Inn. Currently, a motion to change Brooke Parrott, Chris Parrott’s former wife, from fourth to first place will be considered at the hearing.
Sussex Borough should receive priority payment because municipal leans are typically paid first.
Mayor Rose said the borough tax lien on unpaid water, sewer charges, plus back taxes started around $75,000 in November of 2012. Now the amount is around $115,000 because of daily interest charges.
Around the same time as the Sussex Borough lien, the DOT was completing the Route 23 realignment around Sussex Inn and condemned part of its land through Eminent Domain. Because of the borough lien, Sussex Borough became party to the DOT’s lawsuit.
The DOT process for taking the land of private citizens is called “condemnation." The state or county government sends a letter to the citizen explaining legitimate government concern. Later, the two parties negotiate. When an agreement is not reached, the government procures an estimate of the property’s fair market value. Next, they file a condemnation with the court for possession, take the property, and place money in escrow for what the land is believed to be worth. The private citizen may challenge the fair market value amount in court.
As part of the condemnation, former mayor of Sussex and current owner of Sussex Inn, Chris Parrott, will lose some front lawn property and parking to the realignment of Route 23.
Sussex Tax Assessor Melissa Caton, the Department of Transportation, and Parrott were unavailable for comment.