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Bedford council reaches accord with Joppa Hill farm

BEDFORD - Councilors approved an agreement with the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill in an emergency meeting Tuesday night, which will finally address the repair of the farm's 15,000-square-foot barn.

Under the new agreement, the town agrees to remove ceiling tiles believed to contain asbestos by April 30.

Town Manager Jessie Levine said the cost would be anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000, but wanted to budget closer to $40,000.

The farm will then have 60 days to decide if it wants to proceed with the rest of the repairs, and it will have one year to complete them.

Before making the repairs, the farm must prove to the town that it has the funds to do so.

"This agreement does accomplish the No. 1 goal we've had through all of this, which is to make the barn safe," Levine said.

In the meantime, the town is expected to negotiate a new, long-term lease with the farm.

While councilors approved the agreement, several expressed disappointment in the process.

Council Chairman Bill Dermody said that he regretfully agreed to the new deal.

"As far as I'm concerned, we've acquiesced again to the wishes of the lawyers and to the board of the farm," Dermody said.

Dermody said he, as well as other councilors, were under the impression that an agreement had been reached with the farm's board of directors in January, which the board ultimately refused to sign.

Dermody added that he was voting in favor of the agreement for one reason, which was to get the farm to make repairs to the barn, but described the way the EFJH board conducted itself as "despicable."

Councilors discussed how the removal of the ceiling tiles should be paid for, and Levine outlined several options.

One was to ask voters to add the $40,000 to the operating budget; a second was to use funds from the Land Reserve Fund, which has a balance of $528,000; a third choice was to use some of the town's infrastructure bond, and a fourth choice was to find the funding within the town's operating budget.

Councilors opted to ask voters at the Budgetary Town Meeting to approve transferring funds from the Land Reserve Fund to the DPW Building Maintenance line, which would result in a zero tax impact, and the motion was approved.