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AYER — An early morning meeting of Ayer’s Industrial Development Financing Authority (IDFA) took place Thursday, June 24. The IDFA, created by Town Meeting in June 1994, is a selectmen-appointed board empowered to issue loans to aid business development in Ayer.

The town’s website states the IDFA may finance “worthy community-based projects that create or retain jobs and invests in need infrastructure improvements to strengthen local business districts.”

“I guess what we’re here to talk about is the discussion of the Central Ave. property,” said IDFA Chairman Brian Anderson in opening the meeting.

The loan applicant was the Ayer Board of Selectmen which is seeking an IDFA loan in an undisclosed amount, to be repaid with an undisclosed rate of interest, to purchase three contiguous, separately owned, undeveloped parcels on Central Avenue.

According to information from the town accountant’s office, as of June 23, the total available in UDAG funds is $3.37 million.

The IDFA controls $1.5 million of the fund which is used for loans repaid at an interest rate set by the IDFA. In addition, the IDFA uses $100,000 solely for no-interest business sign and facade financing. The selectmen control the remaining $1.8 million in UDAG funds.

The Board of Selectmen’s plan is to turn the parcels on Central Avenue along the railroad tracks adjacent to the Main Street Bridge into a parking lot as part of the selectmen’s “hybrid” downtown parking solution. Selectmen have said the lot would provide temporary parking for displaced cars during the construction of a proposed $11 million parking garage located on the Rail Trail at the corner of Park and Main streets.

The Central Avenue land is worth a combined $78,000, according to an appraisal commissioned by selectmen and released in April. At the same meeting, then-Selectmen Chairman Connie Sullivan pondered the use of UDAG monies to finance a $750,000 energy performance contract with Johnson Controls.

No sooner did Thursday’s IDFA meeting begin than Selectman Jim Fay, the sole selectman representative present to make the loan pitch, requested that the meeting move into executive session, relieving the room of one audience member — a news reporter.

“For me, first off I’d want to go into executive session based on the fact that we’d be talking about a land acquisition,” Fay said.

“I’d agree,” said IDFA member Kevin Horgan. “OK, that’s fine,” answered Anderson.

Interim Town Administrator Jeff Ritter advised the Authority that it could enter executive session under the Open Meeting Law pursuant to Exemption 6, which permits a closed-door meeting of a public board when considering, “the purchase … of real property if the chair declares that an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the negotiating position of the public body.”

Generally, applicants to the IDFA for loan financing are privately owned businesses. Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40D, Section 5, permits the Authority to withhold from public release “materials or data (which) may consist of trade secrets or commercial or financial information regarding the operation of any business conducted by an applicant for any form of assistance…” The law also permits “executive sessions closed to the public.”

A trade secret generally includes information used in one’s business which gives one an advantage over competitors who do not know the same information. The unique situation here is that the applicant is a public entity — the town of Ayer — for a public project: a town-owned parking lot.

When asked to distinguish between the town’s land negotiations and the loan application before the IDFA, Authority member Kevin Horgan said it was subject matter to be sorted out in executive, not open, session.

Anderson joked that their meetings typically aren’t attended by the public. “Look, this is the first time we’ve had a meeting that anyone’s been here.”

The four IDFA members present voted unanimously to enter into closed-door session (Francis Callahan was absent).

That night, Fay said he needed to bring the proposed loan terms to his full Board of Selectmen for consideration.

A request by Anderson for minutes of the IDFA’s executive session meeting has not yet been fulfilled.

The selectmen meet again Tuesday, July 6. It was not immediately clear whether the IDFA loan terms would be on the selectmen’s meeting agenda for either open or closed session review.

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